The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir (New York: Broadway Books, 2014. 387 pp)

Andy Weir was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age 15 and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel.

Spaceman Spiff

The earth is not a cold dead place. It’s pretty amazing to consider how it perfectly situated itself for life. Orbits, size, rotation, gravity. It all plays a part.

Our closest neighbor, on the other hand, will kill you if you visit. It is a cold dead place.

If and when we visit Mars, the danger of such a mission will make the moon landing look like a lazy Sunday stroll.

A classic sci-fi story with an emphasis on the science aspect, The Martian tells the story of survival in the face of the longest odds.

Left for Dead

The stormy nature of Mars strands Astronaut Mark Watney. During an emergency abort, Watney separates from the rest of the crew, left for dead.

A botanist and a mechanical engineer by trade, Watney must science himself to safety.

“Remember those old math questions you had in algebra class? Where water is entering a container at a certain rate and leaving at a different rate and you need to figure out when it’ll be empty? Well, that concept is critical to the ‘Mark Watney doesn’t die’ project I’m working on” (18).

This project, as it turns, surrounds figuring out a way to stay alive for another 1,200 days or so before the next Mars mission touches down about a 50-days journey from his current location.

And despite everyone back home thinking Mark had died originally, some satellite reconnaissance informs earth of Mark’s survival. Now the whole world watches his every move.

“He turned back to Venkat. ‘I wonder what he’s thinking right now.’
Log Entry: Sol 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense” (64).

And thus, Andy Weir sets up The Martian asking us to hang on as Mark Watney fights this monumental struggle.

Gimme Oxygen

An entertaining read—perhaps you could tell through Watney’s sense of humor—Weir capably creates an edge-of-your-seat tale.

While underlining the many aspects of science required to sustain life in a harsh world, and providing many elements of human error along the way, the reader feels the tension and dread of the marooned inmate of this red planet.

These sections, spliced against stories from back home which give added depth, establish The Martian as a page turner with a decent selection of characters.

It’s hard to say whether or not The Martian will have long-term staying power. The upcoming film based on the novel might help provide enduring value, but for now, I’m comfortable calling it a stellar summer read.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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