Accidentally stranded on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney must figure out how to stay alive – and 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, none of his life support systems are geared for long-term survival. NASA never figured anyone would need it.
Yet for astronaut, botanist – and now Martian – Watney, 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.
“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 – 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 characters in literature tend to died off long before they get 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.
The Martian, by Andy Weir
Quoted edition published by Del Ray, 2014
Picture credit: Brian McGowan