In general, I always try to read the book before seeing the movie. This was an exception. Mostly because my wife had read the book before the movie came out and was really excited to see how they adapted it to the big screen. I’m pretty sure we saw it opening weekend.
I finally got around to reading the book, and while I do think it was better than the movie, the movie also kind of ruined the book for me. The problem was that the bulk of the story is about a man trying to survive on Mars. It’s a man-vs-nature story, where there really isn’t an antagonist. Those stories can be really compelling, but usually only once (I felt the same way about the movie Cast Away, it was fascinating the first time, but pretty boring the second). I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the “villain” in these stories can’t be developed like human characters. There’s no motive behind the actions, it’s not like Mars was specifically targeting Watney, it was just there, doing what it had done for millennia, and this time a human happened to be there at the same time. Because of that, when I was going through the book, it was mostly a reminder of what I knew was going to happen. There were some little differences, but nothing big. The movie was a really accurate adaptation.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading it. Weir is an excellent author. The book is technical, but accessible. The characters are all well rounded and likeable. The pace is good, and the story is satisfying. There really isn’t much to criticize, it’s an excellent novel… I just really wished I had seen the movie second.