I’m honestly not sure whether I would have kept on with this book without having the context of the film. Probably? The will-he-survive narrative is a gripping one, after all, and it’s so different from superficially similar narratives. But I was surprised, while reading, to see how different this is from the film. I don’t mean different in terms of plot, although there are a couple of differences – but nothing significant. I mean different in terms of … richness, I guess. Detail. I guess it’s not fair to compare a visual medium with a print one, but some writers manage to convey a richness of detail – not always in a lot of words (Okorafor, Le Guin). Weir is not that person – well, not in this book anyway.
Anyway, I did enjoy it – partly because I’d been wanting to read the source material having loved the film. I liked the science-heavy nature of it: there’s a lot of discussion about chemistry but it didn’t get to Greg Egan levels (I love Egan but even I glaze over at vector diagrams in my SF). Mark Watney is a somewhat less engaging character when he’s just talking to you, rather than accompanied by Matt Damon’s facial expressions – maybe I was spoiled in that regard by the film, but BookWatney has less of a sense of humour, I think. There’s still some nice interactions between the different characters, which I enjoyed, and at least some of the diversity that I enjoyed in the film is present in the book.
Also, because I love this stuff: I am now absolutely convinced that they cast Sean Bean in his role SOLELY for the purpose of that one LOTR joke, and no one will ever convince me otherwise. Plus there’s no way, despite what my beloved thinks about my obsession with conspiracy theories, that it was accidental that two characters who talk together about Watney’s communication access are called “Chuck” and “Morris”.
Recommended for people who like some science in their science fiction. Kudos to the developers of the film for seeing the potential in this book.