The Martian title image with spaceman

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Accidentally being left for dead on Mars would be a bit of a downer for most people. There’s the lack of oxygen and food for starters. Then there’s the four-year wait until you can next hitch a lift home.

For astronaut, botanist and remarkably happy camper Mark Watney, however, things could always be worse. So much so that, 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.

Against all the odds, Mark Watney aims to keep himself alive enough to make contact with Earth and, eventually, get back. Along the way, everything that could go wrong, does. 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.

It would be easy to be dismissive of The Martian, yet it’s just so damn likable – just like Watney. 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 – in fact, it’s not science fiction, except where it shows that, when humans work together, we’re OK, actually.

“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.”

Similar to: Robinson Crusoe, The Boys’ Book of Survival.

The Martian, Andy Weir. Del Ray, 2014


Words: my own except where quoted.

Photo by Stéphane Delval.