The Martian (2014)
Andy Weir (1972)
Left for dead on Mars by his crew-mates during a sandstorm that leads to an emergency evacuation, Mark Watney must find ways to survive on his own --- first moment-to-moment, then day-to-day. As he quickly adjusts to his shocking predicament, Watney explores ways to convert the equipment and habitat the crew had been using on Mars for their scientific mission into an oasis of survival in the barren and unforgiving Martian environment. Finally achieving some stability in his new, if highly circumscribed, world, he then turns his abilities to support the seemingly far-fetched hope of rescue.
Software engineer and first time author Andy Weir’s The Martian plays out like an extended episode of the old TV series MacGyver, as Watney demonstrates a keen ingenuity and resourcefulness in marshaling what tools he has available to survive both the sudden emergencies and the longer-term risks that threaten him. His education as a botanist helps him overcome what is perhaps his most fundamental problem --- expanding his food supply sufficiently to improve his chance of rescue. But it is his broader knowledge of science and engineering, and his ability to quickly engage that knowledge to his advantage that ultimately keeps him alive.
From a science-engineering-geek point of view, Weir’s story provides a fascinating series of challenges for Watney to solve, each reportedly fairly true to life in both their likelihood and the solutions he finds to address them. That very feature of the story, however, threatens at times to make the plot a bit monotonous, because the reader basically follows Watney from one emergency to the next for the length of the story --- he’s alone on Mars, after all, there is little else for him to do but fight to stay alive. Weir gives Watney a smart-ass manner, though, which both helps him psychologically to carry on in the face of the unrelenting tension of his situation, and provides the reader with some comic relief from what becomes otherwise a steady diet of engineering problem solving.
Weir builds much of the story around Watney’s log entries, though a part of it also takes place back on earth and in space, as a rescue attempt is eventually mounted. He captures well the varied voices of the scientists, technicians and astronauts that work to find ways to help Watney --- some thoughtful, some introverted, some just plain nerds. He touches also on the political and social aspects of the situation: even as the costs mount, most people cannot help but support whatever efforts are necessary to try and bring back this one man.
For those who enjoy the science part of science fiction, The Martian provides a novel-full. But the action-adventure thrills are there too, as we root for Watney to find yet one more way to keep himself alive.
Other reviews / information:
I haven’t seen it yet, but a movie of the book has recently been released, starring Matt Damon.
Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION Bookshelf and NON-FICTION Bookshelf