Book Review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir

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“I’m [expletive.]”

That’s how Andy Weir’s The Martian begins, with the titular human-martian, Mark Watney, stranded on Mars after a dust storm convinced his team members he was dead as they evacuated the planet. Now, with no way to “phone home,” he has to figure out how to survive the several years until the next Mars mission and someone get to the next Martian landing site, all in order to prove to NASA that he is still alive.

Welcome to Mars. I hope you like potatoes.

I read this novel a few years ago when it first came out, about two months or so before the movie did, and ended up absolutely loving it. I read it again for my dystopian class last fall, and then we watched the movie and compared the two. As always, I am firmly in Camp Book when it comes to choosing between versions.

The novel features more female characters, for one, and forces Watney to survive on his own for far longer and far better than the movie shows. But that’s enough about the movie.

Watney figures out how to farm on Mars, creating the world’s first non-Earth potato farm using his own excrement and some dirt he brought — he conveniently happens to be the mission’s botanist, proving to us that if it were anyone else stranded on Mars, they would be dead far before NASA realized they were still alive. However, he’s not very into the whole “sustainability” thing beyond keeping himself alive — which is to be expected, but he leaves a ton of unnecessary trash around. This is made even worse by the realization that NASA intended for all of this to be left behind, anyways, with no plans for easy decomposition. Does this mean we’re already polluting Mars the same way we’ve polluted Earth?

But sustainability/environmental impact aside, this is an astounding novel.

The novel is formatted in journal entries from Watney, interrupted by short jumps back to Earth, where NASA realizes Watney is still alive by observing satellite images. The NASA portions give us an outside perspective that is sorely needed, as if it were just Watney rambling on to himself, it would seem like an incomplete book. As it is, it’s pretty darn complete. We’re even given insight into the heads of Watney’s other crew members, as they fight to understand they left him alive and wounded, stranded on the Martian surface. At times, the novel switches to an outside, omniscient third person narrator, whose only job is to narrate the moments where such terrible things happen that the reader is left wondering how Watney will survive.

I’m not a scientist, so I can’t claim that any of his math or science works out, but it certainly seems as if Weir has done his research. (My paperback edition came with interviews in the back that showed how he completed his novel.) I’m hoping Weir writes other novels, or even a sequel about Watney, because his style of writing is entertaining. The use of dark humor keeps the book from becoming too morbid, which is a great possibility when your main character is trapped on a hostile planet with any idea of help being several years away.

If you’re a science fiction fan, I recommend this book at 4/5 stars. It’s got a tight plot and a complex cast of characters, and the adventure Watney goes on is entertaining and fascinating. I’ve picked this book up several times, and I’ve shown the movie to my father (spoiler alert: the book’s ending is WAY BETTER), and I think I’ve gotten several people hooked on this book as well. You might not even technically classify it as science fiction, because it seems so rooted in realism that something like this might actually happen someday. Maybe it’s better to call it a scientific fiction book (you know, like historical fiction?). Or a futuristic fiction.

Either way you slice it, The Martian is a novel that’s not to be skipped except by those who don’t believe in space. (And if you don’t…well, I’ve got some bad news for you…)

A word of warning: the original novel has a lot of cursing in it. If that’s not your speed, pick up the newly-released Classroom Edition instead! It replaces all of those f-bombs with words like “screwed,” making the first sentence “I’m screwed” instead of “I’m f[expletive].” This is great if you want to share it with the space-interested youngsters in your life but don’t want to expose them to the realities of people throwing expletive-laden temper-tantrums when they’re left behind on a barren wasteland in space.

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Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Classroom ed. edition (May 3, 2016)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804189354

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