Audiobook Rating: 5 out of 5 Star (Highest Rating)
Andy Weir's The Martian chronicles a mission to Mars in the near future that goes wrong causing the astronauts to make a quick exit after a treacherous dust storm descends upon them. However, one member of the team--botanist/engineer Mark Watney--is left behind when the others believe that he perished in the evacuation. He returns to their base, which survived the storm, but with his crewmates on their way back to Earth and no ship scheduled to return to Mars in several years, his prospects for survival look bleak with only limited supplies available to him. He then puts his mind to working out a means to stay alive until a rescue mission can arrive, and thousands back on Earth work around the clock to assist him.
This book from newcomer Andy Weir has an interesting publishing history. He set out to write a story about a rescue mission for an astronaut stranded on Mars, and his goal was to make it as realistic as possible. Weir committed himself to painstaking research on space exploration and tried to make the events of his story as realistic as possible based on current technology. However, he could not interest any literary agents or publishers in picking up the book so he decided to serialize it one chapter at a time on his website. He eventually published the entire story as a Kindle book and it became a bestseller in that format. That led to Podium Publishing picking it up as an audiobook followed by Crown picking up the print rights. And now it is heading to the big screen with Ridley Scott rumored to direct and Matt Damon attached to play Mark Watney (and I'm sure after reading this that all of us working on our own self-published books will start doubling up our efforts).
The book itself is quite well written and an engaging piece of speculative fiction. It shifts from Watney's personal log entries to a third person account of Mission Control monitoring the situation back on Earth and Watney's crewmates in space who find themselves unable to help at first. Interestingly, much of what Watney recounts in his logs are the mundane details of the steps he is taking to ensure his survival (i.e., he decides he must plant a crop to provide himself with food, so he walks us through the planting and growing of potatoes). It seems like that would be incredibly dull to read about, but it definitely kept my attention throughout. I do have to admit that the constant setbacks he experiences start to get tiresome, but then these were believable and not contrived and ultimately paid off in the end. I consider this an excellent book about space exploration that never compromises its science and also never dulls the reader with it.
As for the audiobook adaptation, I don't believe that they could have picked a better reader than R.C. Bray. He lends just the right amount of snarkiness to Watney's log entries which really helps bring out the character. He also delivers a near flawless job with the voices of the other characters, shifting in an out of various, well-articulated accents. It is rare that I give a five star rating for an audiobook based on the narrator alone (it usually goes to well done "enhanced productions" that add sound effects and music like Audio Realms' adaptation of Elric of Melnibone), but Bray definitely deserves it for his reading of this book. I will be searching out more books that he has narrated based on his performance here alone.
The Martian is definitely an excellent science fiction novel and one that I believe fans of the genre should seek out. And the audiobook version is most certainly a great way to experience it. The print and Kindle edition of the book is available from Amazon.com and the audiobook is available from Audible.com as well as iTunes, Barnes and Noble and other sources.