I love Andy Weir’s snarky narrative voice. His characters always have more or less the same dry wit, handling personal and global catastrophe with understated sarcasm. Really, this carried the story.
The main character awakens in naked and alone on a cold table covered with IVs and catheters and cannot remember anything about who he was or how he arrived there. Since the whole thing is in first person, he evaluates his surroundings with dry humor, even though there’s nothing funny about the situation at all. He realizes presently that he’s on a space ship, that his only two human companions have been dead so long that their bodies are decomposing, and that he’s being kept alive by a nanny computer. His memory returns to him in flashbacks, which is how we learn his story: he’s Ryland Grace, a high school science teacher, which is part of why he cannot understand how he came to find himself in such a predicament. But the flashbacks fill in the details: the sun was slowly being eaten by an organism that can apparently survive on its surface. Grace has a history in academia, though he left it after being ridiculed for his a wild theory that living organisms may not necessarily be water-based. This is exactly why the scientists scrambling to solve the astrophage problem later sought him out.
It appears that aside from flashbacks, Grace will be the only character in the entire novel (much like Mark in The Martian). But a little under halfway through the novel, he meets an alien in another solar system, there for the same reason he is. I wondered how Weir would pull off an alien encounter without making it impossibly stereotypical and cheesy, but he did a great job. Much of their early interaction involves learning one another’s languages (though since the alien speaks in musical tones impossible for a human to mimic, I did wonder at the shorthand of how Grace actually manage to speak back. Everything is of course translated to English for us so this kind of got glossed over as far as I could tell, unless I missed it. Which I probably did, the rest of the novel is incredibly detailed.)
I loved the frame story; it saved a lot of revelations for Grace and the reader simultaneously as he recalled how he came to be alone on what amounted to a suicide mission. I certainly wondered how the story could possibly end without (again) being too anticlimactic or too predictable, but there was a great twist that I didn’t see coming. Very creative!
My rating: *****
Language: surprisingly little considering how chock-full of cuss words The Martian was. (In fact, Grace himself marvels that he isn’t using swear words in appropriate moments; this later turns out to be because he’s a teacher.)
Sexual content: nothing overt though in flashback there’s some rather humorous allusions to activities of others
Violence: none that I can recall, which is surprising considering the circumstances
Political content: politicized scientific topics were important to the plot. I overlooked that.