Published by Broadway Books/Crown/Random House (NY)
Publication date: October 28th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories, Suspense
If you’re an astronaut there is only one goal in life: make it onto a space mission. There is also one greatest fear: get left behind on a space mission. For Mark Watney, this fear has just come true on the planet Mars in Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian. When a dust storm arises while the crew is on the surface it means the mission has to be aborted. While trying to get back to the ship the guideline connecting the team members breaks and, due to the force of the winds and the loss of visibility, the crew believes Mark to be dead. They leave Mars and begin the yearlong journey back to earth, never knowing that Mark has survived the storm and his injuries.
For Mark, being left behind doesn’t mean a quick death due to asphyxiation or dehydration. There is a station set up with supplies so he has the means to survive but for how long? The storm has knocked out all the communications devices so to the rest of the world he is dead. Even if it was known he was alive it would take years for a ship to get back to Mars. These are just a few of the questions that arise early on in The Martian and would seem to make this a short story as opposed to a novel except…someone at NASA viewing satellite photos realizes he is alive.
Weir opens The Martian from Mark’s perspective and it is clear right away this is a character to stick with. He’s the everyman of astronauts and more importantly for this reader, he has a wickedly smart-ass sense of humor. He’s not going to sink into a pit of existential despair (hello, Sandra Bullock in Gravity) but almost immediately begins puzzling out not only what he needs to do to extend his life for as long as possible on a cold, dusty wasteland of a planet but also, how can he get off Mars? There is another Martian mission planned, but not for four years. As NASA and the planet explode with the news that he is alive and everyone worries about his state of mind he’s watching Three’s Company and listening to disco—thanks to his captain’s obsession with the 1970s—all while trying to produce food for his survival and cobble together some kind of communications system to link him back to the rest of the world.
By splitting the story between everyone on Earth and Mark on Mars Weir doubles down on the talent pool for quirky, annoying, engaging characters. There are the NASA wonks with the genius-level brains but zero social skills, the bullheaded mission people, and everyone else trying to co-exist around them. With these two viewpoints—on earth and on Mars—Weir is able to build a novel that perfectly straddles the lines between tension, even terror, and humor. This is science fiction, because we’ve not landed humans on Mars, but Weir’s knowledge of space travel and of the smallest elements of designing and maintaining such travel is real. It is even, at some points, too much, with enough terminology that a glossary of NASA acronyms would have been welcome. And yet, for all its complexity this is a simple story of survival and without exaggerating the danger or creating unnecessary problems Weir manages the tension level with the finesse of a pilot docking a spacecraft in orbit. Even if you have no interest in space travel The Martian is out-of-this-world reading.