in Book Reviews, Contemporary Fiction, Science Fiction

The Martian by Andy Weir

Prose changes over time. Popular fiction has always been influenced by other popular forms. Early novels borrowed structure from the epics and plays that came before, and some of those techniques still persist in the books and movies of today.

For better or worse, as attention spans for the written word have gradually shortened, it only makes sense to see fiction fitting itself into the abbreviated forms we’ve grown accustomed to in the age of the tweet.

The Martian is written mostly in the form of protagonist Mark Watney’s personal log, beginning on the day his team was forced to leave him for dead on Mars due to catastrophically bad luck.

With the main character in such complete isolation, his log entries are centered on himself, his thoughts, and the record of his own activities, written down without knowing whether anyone out there will ever read his words. So in effect you’re reading his blog. Some entries are rich with technical information, others are short, informal observations. Some are jokes that would fit into a tweet. All of it drips with a dark sense of humor that would be completely at home in social media.

If you’re the type who insists on traditional literary forms, where the tale is told in objective third-person and has a definite first, second, and third act, this style might feel un-literary. If you expect an almost allegorical level of metaphor — as we’ve seen in popular young adult fiction lately — the story may feel pointless.

But I assure you on both counts: it isn’t. The story comes at you in small, rapidly-digestible chunks, each one ending at the cusp of yet another one of Mark Watney’s life-and-death conundrums. There are larger conclusions about life and humanity one could draw from the story, but except for a one-paragraph homily toward the end, the author isn’t trying to thrust any of them on you.

You should read this book for the adventure, and for the utterly convincing realism. You will be transported to Mars, under some of the worst conditions, and you’ll love it.