by Andy Weir
First Published: 2014
Jacket Design: Eric White
Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Survival Thriller
The Martian is an extraordinary survival thriller that takes place in the near future during one of the first manned missions to Mars. This is the first novel published by Andy Weir and he succeeds in hitting a home run on his first try. The story is about an astronaut who is stranded all alone on Mars when he is presumed dead and left behind during an emergency evacuation. He finds himself with no functional communications in a temporary habitat designed to sustain six astronauts for a month with the next planned mission to mars not scheduled to arrive for 4 years. His only hope is to jury rig the life support systems, find a way to make more food, and find some way to establish communications with earth. Fortunately, he’s been well trained in mechanical engineering and botany, and he is an extremely resourceful individual who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit”.
Most of The Martian is told by the stranded astronaut, Mark Watney, through his journal in which he records his efforts to survive along with his hopes and fears. He describes the technical challenges he faces in great detail and the attempted solutions he devises. Everything is completely believable and the scientific details come across as completely realistic and accurate. The author obviously did his homework as the equipment and science is all based on currently viable technologies which could be used to send a manned mission to Mars. The novel reads like a historically accurate account of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon.
As far as characters go, Mark Watney makes for a superb hero. He has his moments of doubts and fears but he always presses on with efforts to find solutions even after suffering through disasters that would sap the will of most people. He also has a great sense of humor which shines through even in the darkest of times. He describes the technical challenges he faces in detail without going into too much detail to the point of ever being boring. He makes engineering and science come alive as his very life depends on using his ingenuity to overcome each new challenge. He’s also not perfect and makes some serious mistakes but he doesn’t allow himself to get too discouraged by these setbacks.
Eventually, people on Earth find out that Mark is still alive and other scientists and engineers become involved with trying to find ways to help Mark. In the space program, there are plenty of intelligent people and they come up with incredibly innovative and brilliant ideas. Of course, the people on Earth have to deal with something that Mark doesn’t, bureaucracy and competing interests. Tough decisions have to be made and, in some cases, tremendous sacrifices are offered.
The Martian is one of the most exciting and inspiring novels I’ve read. It’s an unforgettable adventure that highlights the indomitable spirit of mankind. It combines dramatic tension with great characters and deep emotions. Anyone who has the slightest interest in the space program or has any general interests in science, engineering, or technology should add this novel to their must read list. This would also be a great novel to motivate high school or college age students who are considering a career in a technical field. As an engineer, I’m certainly biased but The Martian is definitely one of the most satisfying novels I’ve ever read.