In 2012, millions of people around the world watched the Mars Curiosity rover touch down on the surface of Mars. Having been launched the previous November, Curiosity had been en route to Mars for nearly eight months before it safely touched down after descent and began it’s long journey of collecting geological and planetary data. Now Curiosity, as many of the rovers before it, have been unmanned, sending it’s collected data back to Earth with no plans for immediate retrieval. Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, proposes a different scenario: what if an actual mission to Mars was successful, only to have to be aborted, accidentally leaving one of it’s crew members stranded on the red planet. Mark Watney, botanist and engineer for Ares 3 is sure he will be the first human being to die on Mars.
At the beginning of the novel, astronaut Mark Watney has just spent a few days or Martian sols on Mars. On Sol 6, a particularly wicked wind storm with winds upwards of 175 kph caused NASA to call for Ares 3 to abort their mission. When that happened and everyone headed outside to catch a ship to their shuttle hovering over Mars, Watney was knocked over by a stray, loose antennae which punctured his suit. Thinking him dead, the missions commander named Lewis makes the judgement call to head out given the chance that Watney is dead. Surprise! Mark Watney is a survivor. After being momentarily knocked unconscious, he used a patch kit to fix the hole in his suit and makes his way back to the Hab or Habitat, where the Ares 3 crew had been living for their short mission. So now his situation has gone from pretty terrible to just terrible. He is in a Hab designed to last 31 days, he has no way of communicating with Earth that he’s alive and he’s pretty likely to starve to death before anything else.
The Martian is a fantastic novel in that it really gives the answer to the question: what if someone was stranded on Mars or the moon or even another planet. Watney is forced to improvise, literally everything at his disposal and is able to modify many of the things he has in order to prolong his life. The amount of scientific knowledge and wording in this book might be overwhelming for some, but if the reader takes it with a grain of salt, that part is also completely enjoyable. Most of the novel is comprised of internal monologue because you guessed it: he’s alone on Mars. Watney is a funny, sarcastic man despite his predicament and it’s a pleasure to watch his genius unfold to see what way he’ll solve his next problem. Weir’s writing is also a joy to read. It has a fantastic and fast flow, even despite the technologic and science related parts. Watney’s logs come in small chunks so it’s one of those books that readers will tackle and continue with the “just one more chapter” mindset. It’s not hard sci-fi by any means, but it is a thrilling interplanetary thriller which will be one day translated into a big budget feature film.
One of the best things about The Martian is that it’s a standalone story. Sure it’s always great to have series, with continuing storylines and recurring characters, but it’s also nice to be able to read a 300 page novel and have it wrap up nicely at the end. Weir’s writing is fast paced, easily consumable and utterly addicting. He creates a completely loveable character in Mark Watney and keeps the reader rooting for him right up until the end. The amount of research that likely went into writing this novel also makes it worthwhile to read; Weir probably spent incredible amounts of time researching technical space travel jargon to be able to make it as complete a story as it was. The Martian is undoubtedly one of the best recent sci-fi novels and will probably go down in history as one of the best sci-fi thrillers ever written.
Rating: 9/10 – The Martian is a fantastic book about survival, loneliness and the depths of space. Andy Weir introduces us to a protagonist named Mark Watney who is left to his demise because of an accident, becomes a MacGyver in space, fixing, plotting and planning his way off Mars. The only question is whether the planet will let him go.
If you enjoyed The Martian, please check out Mr. Weir’s other writings on his site.