The Martian, by Andy Weir, is about to become a major motion picture. So, it’s time to look at the brilliant book behind it. This science-fiction novel is the tale of Mark Watney, a resourceful and humorous astronaut on a manned mission to Mars. When a dust storm whips up ferocious winds, a broken antennae flies through the air and impales him, separating Watney from the rest of his crew. When the storm clears, all that remains is Watney and the barren planet. The rest of his crew managed to evacuate the planet, but the entire world presumes Watney to be dead. By some sheer miracle, Watney survives. The rest of the book follows Watney as he ensures his survival until NASA can send a rescue mission. His story is told through his own logs, kept in case some space traveler in the future finds it.
The most appealing aspect of The Martian as a science-fiction novel is its realism. Instead of bringing in aliens or complete bogus technology to fill in the holes, Weir writes using real science and engineering. As a botanist and mechanical engineer, our protagonist relies on his wits to keep himself alive. Through careful planning, Watney uses the available materials to create food and water. He calculates how long each of his resources will last, and how he can replenish them. As a result, much of the book is filled with complicated science-related jargon, but all of it is scientifically accurate. He overcomes real challenges with real solutions.
Mark Watney’s distinct character also contributes to the book. He is both confident and careful, and analyzes problems with careful logic. He is also extremely humorous and vulgar, cracking jokes whenever he can. This lightens the mood of a harrowing survival tale. Watney lets us sympathize with his plight without sounding corny or scripted. All of his reactions to events are extremely realistic. Readers should take notice that Watney does swear a lot throughout the story. The F-word appears in the very first sentence.
The Martian is an excellent science-fiction novel that meshes excitement with realism. Readers with a love of technology will especially enjoy this book. The movie comes out in October, so you can read the novel before seeing the film.