This description can easily fit into any blockbuster film but it is instead describing a book that is within a genre that is typically not easily identifiable with this category: Hard Science Fiction Books. Andy Weir’s The Martian is a definitive science fiction book that manages to draw in readers who normally would not read hard science fiction. The Martian manages to create a perfect mix of scientific facts and jargon with a fast paced plot. This perfect blend allows for science buffs to enjoy the accurate description of physics and space while also allowing a fiction junkie to just enjoy the thrill of following the protagonist trying to survive on Mars. Someone who personally loves Neil deGrasse Tyson and has an eclectic choice of fiction, The Martian is the best of both worlds: fictionalized science.
The Martian is Andy Weir’s first novel and he has been candied that during the writing of this novel he received numerous edits and corrections from people in the scientific field. As part of his drafting process he would post parts of the novel on several scientific blogs and ask the scientific community if the plot or character actions were accurate or even possible in space and Mars. That is what makes The Martian such a defining science fiction book, Weir completely steers away from fantastical plots and makes the actions of the protagonist as realistic as possible to how a human could or would survive on Mars.
The Martian is for all intents and purposes is a semi-space chronicle. Instead of the protagonist, or main characters, charting their way through space we have one who is stuck on one planet. The time period isn’t set in some far off future but the 21st century and allows for the reader to engage directly with the idea that man could soon walk and live on Mars, albeit accidentally.
The novel opens with Mark Watney’s supposed death, essentially his biometrics that was attached to his space suit was cut off during a storm and it appeared to other crew members he was killed in the same storm. The problem begins when his crew incidentally leaves him behind and it continues with Watney waking up on Mars and discovering that not only has the crew left but all means of communication with NASA and the spaceship was destroyed in the storm. The rest of the novel follows Watney and NASA as they focus on one goal: how to keep Watney alive on Mars for several years until another crew lands on Mars.
There are two main viewpoints throughout the entire novel; Mark Watney’s journal entries and NASA leaders. Watney’s perspective is told through daily logs. He begins these journal entries as a way for future astronauts who will land in Mars in a few years’ time to access his means of survival. The first third of the novel is only Watney’s journal entries and his attempts to come with terms with NASA not knowing he is still alive. He is essentially trying to survive while also knowing survival will not be long lasting; there is only so much food before he can no longer produce essential nutrients needed to survive. These first few chapters are jarring and emotional, whatever Watney is feeling we immediately see in his journal entry. Watney purposefully writes for an audience that will discover his journal entries long after he dies. One would expect that since he is expecting to die his journal entries will be full of life advice and profound life thoughts. Though Watney is reflective he is often quite humorous throughout the novel, several raunchy and survival jokes are written throughout his logs. The rest of the novel alternates once Watney and NASA find a way to communicate with each other.
The overall theme of the novel is perseverance not equating to hostile/unbearable reality. There are many instances when Watney’s death seemed inevitable: when essential machines stopped functioning, NASA debating if they should send a crew to save him or leave him to eventual death, and whether Watney himself had the wherewithal to survive long enough for help to come. All of this wrapped into a protagonist that somehow conveys to the reader a typical human without Herculean strength. This is why I believe this novel was such a standout under the hard science fiction genre. It had many opportunities to play into the fantastical science drama but it did not. Andy Weir was diligent in ensuring that the novel was grounded in reality and it was much better for it.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in trying out hard science fiction books but apprehensive about the genre. What I loved most about the story was the ease of reading ‘hard scientific facts’ intermixed with quirky antidotes exchanged between NASA and Watney. I did at times get a bit lost when the narrator explained his reasoning for employing certain scientific methods but that is because I am not a botanist or chemist. Of course people will ask whether the book is better than the movie and I always leave that up to the individual. Having seen both they are both comparably good in their own rights. Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who likes medium to fast paced plots with well-developed characters.