29 January 2015

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Andy Weir's debut would be great, if it was marketed as a Mars survival guide, rather than a novel. To achieve said goal, it would need some heavy editing, breaking it down into finer episodes or "issues", plus an index for quick reference to the problems and solutions, the same way you would expect from a bicycle repair manual such as Park Tool's Big Blue Book of Bicycle Shop Repair and Maintenance or other technical manuals.

But it is not, and it's got "A Novel" printed right under the title on the front cover, rendering any oversight on the part of the reader impossible. As a novel, it fails quite miserably. The "story" feels like an afterthought, added with the intention to liven up the mood, a task which it sometimes accomplishes, despite laden with cliché, while most of the time it's just plain uninspiring.

The narrative gives the feeling that one's watching a Hollywood movie where the hero can just ignore whatever immediate danger at hand or certain death and crack a lame joke, or just go "Craaaap!". Almost the whole novel also reads like an IM chat, with LOLs! and Yays! all the way, which sometimes probably can be regarded as a reflection of the IM "culture", but it got on my nerves quicker than expected, I was rolling my eyes before half way through it, and that just ruined any lingering interests I had in the book. However, I did finish it, simply because I'd paid for the book.

I don't buy brand new books without doing some prior research, and during my little investigations everything indicated that it was incredible beyond doubt; Amazon and various review sites all rendered the same result. Inside the cover, San Jose Mercury News even went so far as to suggest that it "harkens back to masters such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke." That sealed my decision and I bought the book, only to be convinced later that whoever wrote that had been smoking too much weed. The overwhelmingly amount of positive reviews just puzzles me.

The influence of Hollywood movies on the author is undeniably strong, it's practically everywhere, from the way characters talk to how chapter are arranged. Effectively, Ridley Scott's turning it into a film starring Matt Damon. It will probably be an entertaining movie, and I will probably go see it, but one white forgettable after viewing because practically nothing stays with the viewer despite that Mark, the protagonist, is a space MacGyver who can solve nearly anything with duck tapes, and a joke cracking machine just like a ton of other movie stars, that is to say, stereotypes. Zero character development, from the first page to the last, Mark is just that great big boy everyone loves, and when putting the book down, forgets.

There's nothing that stays with you, no drama, no questions or issues to ponder over long after the last page is turned. As a novel, it's a great disappointment; but it might shine as a fictional yet believable Mars survival guide.