The Martian by Andy Weir is a truly compelling sci-fi novel that utilizes actual science for a believable, edge-of-your-seat adventure that stands apart from all the others. However, that originally wasn’t the plan. Weir started by publishing bits and pieces of The Martian on his blog, where it quickly became a success. At the request of his ever-growing fan base, he made his novel accessible on Amazon Kindle to purchase for $0.99. Within three months, The Martian had sold 35,000 copies. Shortly after, the novel was picked up to publish in print and is now a major motion picture starring a slew of A-list actors.
When a powerful, unexpected storm hits the Ares 3 crew on Mars, they are forced to abort their mission and leave immediately. Astronaut Mark Watney is struck with debris and ends up getting lost in the storm. The crew quickly makes a difficult decision and leaves him behind, as they are certain from his vitals he is dead from the impact. As it turns out, Watney is very much alive and left behind on Mars. With no way of communicating with his crew or NASA and left with supplies and equipment that were only supposed to last 30 days, Watney is in trouble. Shortly after, NASA learns that Watney is still alive and they manage to communicate back and forth in a painstakingly slow fashion. Without giving anything important away, The Martian becomes a fight for one astronaut’s life, beating the odds, racing the clock and using outstanding ingenuity to survive on a barren planet.
The Martian is written in the form of logs, basically diary entries, and occasionally a narration of what is taking place at NASA and the remaining members of Watney’s crew. Because of the honest writing style it becomes very easy to feel more connected to Watney and generally like and root for his character. It’s so important, in this book especially, that the main character is likable, as you are spending majority of your reading time with him. Mark Watney’s sense of humor and spirit really carries his character and the entire book. He copes with his dire situation rather well and still finds a way to actually entertain. The great thing about The Martian is it’s so believable, between the diary entries and all the science and space jargon.
At the same time, however, those things could also be a negative at times. It’s an immense amount of detailed chemistry in this book and it becomes hard to follow at times. Thankfully, as the reader, you don’t need to know exactly what Mark is talking about, because eventually he spells it out for you and his smart-alecky demeanor jumps off the pages enough, you don’t feel like you’re reading a chemistry textbook. Mark is so real you’ll want to grab a beer with him and you’ll surprise yourself when you forget that The Martian is fiction. With every setback, you internally groan and feel his anguish and with every accomplishment, you feel his elation at staying alive another day. This is one of those books where seeing the movie play out might be more entertaining than the book—gasp! It would have been nice to watch all these in-depth things that Mark is doing as opposed to reading his science-y description telling us what he’s doing.
It’s astounding how the will to live makes up such a huge part of the survival process, also how every single thing truly adds up in staying alive. Every calorie, every kilogram, every hour, every potato, every centimeter of fabric; it all adds up in extending the days of survival. It was also very inspiring to see how mankind came together in an effort to get Mark home: “Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception.”
P.S. For a review of the film version in theaters now, click here.