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The Martian ()

It's the 4th of July as I write this and tons of folks are headed to the beach. Anyone who isn't carrying this novel along as their beach book is really missing out. Author Andy Weir is a computer scientist and self-confessed science nerd. This book had its genesis in a mission to Mars he planned first in his head and then in a computer simulation. Recalling the difficulty Apollo 13 faced just because piping wasn't uniform and easily jerry-rigged, he had the idea of challenging an astronaut with a whole series of such dilemmas. The kicker is that each solution to a problem tends to cause the next one.

Mark Watney, an engineer/botanist, is presumed dead in a storm on Mars and his crewmates leave him behind when their mission is aborted. Unfortunately, the storm also devastates the equipment with which he could have communicated with Earth or the crew. Watney tells his ensuing survival tale in the form of a journal, making much of the book an extended soliloquy. He's quite the wise-acre, but ingenious enough to keep saving himself and good-humored enough to stay optimistic throughout. He's inevitably been compared to both MacGyver and Robinson Crusoe.

Essentially, he starts out with: a Habitat and some remaining supplies; machines for making air, water and energy; two rovers; and ten real potatoes intended for the crew's Thanksgiving dinner. From these meager beginnings the story builds to the point where he finds a way to get himself off the planet. Weir uses the hard sci-fi form, meaning that, rather than encountering aliens or relying on imaginary technology, all of the science that Watney uses already exists or is imminent. This gives the story a realism to balance out the improbability of overcoming one catastrophe after another.

The book is a tad overlong and some of the episodes, with their scientific detail, can get tedious if you aren't quite as nerdy as the author. But Watney is such an engaging protagonist and the general pace of the narrative is so propulsive that it makes for an enjoyable escapist entertainment.


Grade: (A)


Andy Weir Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: AndyWeirAuthor
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Martian (Weir novel)
    -ESSAY: How science made me a writer: As a programmer and all-around nerd, I learned that the intricacies of science can be a great driver for plot (Andy Weir, 2/11/14, Salon)
One day, in between doing highly charismatic non-nerdy things, I started working up a manned Mars mission in my head. I even wrote my own software to calculate the orbital trajectory my imaginary crew would take to get from Earth to Mars. And not some boring Hohmann Transfer, either! I envisioned a constantly accelerating VASIMR powered ship, which — ahem. Sorry, got carried away. Anyway, I had to account for failure scenarios on their surface mission. What if something went wrong? How could I design the mission so the crew would have contingency plans? What if they had multiple failures, one after another, that ruined those contingency plans?

While working that out, I started to realize their increasingly desperate solutions would make a pretty interesting story. That’s when I came up with the idea for “The Martian.”

    -INTERVIEW: 'The Martian': Author Andy Weir discusses his new sci-fi novel (Molly Driscoll, February 20, 2014, CS Monitor)
    -INTERVIEW: 'The Martian' Author Andy Weir Explains All the Ways Mars Wants to Kill You: Weir explains what definitely would have killed his hero, what O.J. Simpson and Mark Watney have in common, and why space mutinies are more common than you might think. (Andrew Moseman, Popular Mechanics)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Andy Weir: ‘The Martian’: To write The Martian, first-time novelist Andy Weir had to study orbital mechanics, astronomy, and the history of manned spaceflight. The payoff is a survival story so realistic, it’ll make you wonder, Could a stranded astronaut really survive on Mars? (Ira Flatow, 2/14/14, NPR Science Friday)
    -PROFILE: The surprising story of how Andy Weir's self-published book 'The Martian' topped best seller lists and got a movie deal (Kelly Dickerson, Jun. 22, 2015, Business Insider)
    -PROFILE: Andy Weir and his book ‘The Martian’ may have saved NASA and the entire space program (Joel Achenbach May 5, 2015, Washington Post)
    -ARTICLE: 'The Martian' Author Andy Weir Takes a Spin on NASA's Electric Rover (Tariq Malik, May 08, 2015 ,
    -PROFILE: Andy Weir on his strange journey from self-publishing to Hollywood (Sara Vilkomerson, 11/05/2014, Entertainment Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: Stuck on Mars with nothing but disco: Ars talks with The Martian’s Andy Weir (Lee Hutchinson, Nov 16, 2014, Ars Technica)
    -INTERVIEW: Andy Weir, Author of The Martian: A conversation with a space nerd-turned-novelist. (Rebecca Maksel, July 23, 2014,
    -PROFILE: Andy Weir's self-published 'The Martian' travels through space to best-sellerdom (Georgia Rowe, 03/10/2014, Mercury News)
    -PROFILE: 'The Martian' author is less optimistic about getting to Mars than NASA: His book about a colony on Mars is about to become a Hollywood blockbuster, but Andy Weir isn't quite as bullish as NASA about his fiction becoming fact within 25 years. (Eric Mack, May 5, 2015, Cnet)
    -PROFILE: A Survival Guide to Mars: A Computer-Scientist-Turned-Novelist Explores Life on Mars in Debut Thriller (Alexandra Alter, Feb. 14, 2014, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian by Andy Weir (Adam Frank, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Tom Shippey, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Philip Marchand, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Cassandra Neace, Bookriot)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Emily Bartlett Hines, BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Jeff Foust, Space Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Anthony Schulz, Book Examiner)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Rebecca Skane, Seacost Online)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Thomas M. Wagner, SF Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Samantha Nelson, AV Club)
    -REVIEW: of The Martian (Kevin Nance, USA Today)
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