The Martian, by Andy Weir

The Martian title image with spaceman
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Astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on Mars. Now he must not only stay alive, but find a way to get back to Earth.

When a manned mission to Mars goes wrong, Mark Watney is left for dead. Unfortunately, not only is he not dead, but none of his life support systems are geared for long-term survival: NASA never figured anyone would need it.

For astronaut, botanist – and now Martian – Watney, however, things could always be worse. Even when he almost blows himself up trying to create water (to grow potatoes – on Mars, where nothing grows), it’s just one more step on the learning curve. Outrageously upbeat? This disaster plot is so feel-good, it makes Ghostbusters seem like The Exorcist.

There’s a lot of science and technical jargon, as Watney hacks every bit of kit he can get his hands on (and explains in great detail what he’s doing and why). And there are plenty of jokes about 70s music and TV (and plenty of F-words) because … #bantz.

“For the record … I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. ‘Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.”

It would be easy to be dismissive of The Martian, yet it’s just so damn likable – just like Watney himself. It’s no existentialist discourse, yet it peeks in on some fairly fundamental questions: what does it take to stay alive … and what compels us to keep going?

There are no literary bells and whistles; there’s not even much interior depth to Watney’s character  – though, to be fair, most excessively introspective literary characters tend to go the way of Madam Bovary long before they’ve even got the bolts off the radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

It is of course ultimately a compelling page-turner, though not necessarily a sci-fi masterpiece, except where it shows that, when humans work together, we can be pretty decent.


Andy Weir, The Martian. Del Ray, 2014

Other books like The Martian
  • Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe (survival, classic fiction)
  • Nightflyers, by George R. R. Martin (Science Fiction, Space, adventure)
  • Temple, by Matthew Riley (adventure, heroes – though more violent than The Martian)

Picture credit: Stéphane Delval