Book Review: The Martian

Book Name: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
First Published: 2011

Author Andy Weir was born and raised in Southern California. His father is an accelerator physicist and his mother an electrical engineer. Weir grew up reading classic science fiction. His favorite authors were Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When he was 15, was hired by Sandia National Laboratories as a computer programmer. While Weir has studied computer science at UC San Diego in California, he has not obtained a graduate degree. Instead, he has been working as a programmer for software companies such as AOL, Palm, MobileIron, and Blizzard.

Weir has been writing stories since his mid-twenties. His first short story, The Egg has been adapted into YouTube videos. His first novel The Martian began as a free series on his website in 2009. As the story progressed, his readers gave him pointers and helped him with the scientific aspects of the story. The Martian is based on real life science and the Ares missions are ones that have been proposed to NASA. As time went on, many of his readers asked if he would make the story available on kindle. He then offered it on Amazon for 99 cents. The novel ended up being on the Kindle bestseller list. Later, Weir was approached by a literary agent and sold the rights of the book to Crown Publishing Group. The print version debuted #12 on the New York Times Bestseller list. It has gone on to be made into a major motion picture by the same name and starring Matt Damon. The twentieth-first Century Fox film was released in October of 2015.

Weir is reportedly at work on a second novel. He currently resides in Southern California.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
― Andy Weir, The Martian

Ares 3 is the latest mission to Mars. The six-person crew is there to study for 31 days before flying home. During a freak wind storm, astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is left behind and believed dead when he is impaled by a flying antenna during the evacuation. Due to the way he fell and was covered by sand, his suit was able to retain its pressure. When Watney comes to, he is able to return to the “hab”, a tent-like habitat and care for his injuries. He has no way to contact the ship or earth to let them know that he has survived.

It does not take Watney long to realize that even though he has survived his accident, it will be four long years before Ares 4 returns to Mars. While the Hab has enough air and water due to generating it, he does not have enough food to last that long. When going over the supplies, he discovered a package of real potatoes that was being saved for Thanksgiving dinner. Using his skill as a botanist, Watney creates compost from his own human waste and the martian soil and using the potatoes in the package as a seed crop. Soon, his hab is a mini-potato farm making him plenty of extra food.

In order to contact NASA, Watney realizes that the pathfinder probe is not too far away and he travels to it. When it is uncovered from the sand, its solar panels give it enough power to turn on. Watney devises a way to communicate with NASA via this primitive system until they can reprogram a connection in his rover to type back and forth. Watney is no longer alone and learns that a mission to rescue him is being planned.

Watney plans to drive his rover 2000 miles to Schiaparelli crater where the Ares 4 craft is waiting and making fuel for the next mission. He modifies one of the rovers for the mission, adding solar cells and an additional battery.

During this time, a freak accident creates a tear in the Hab and an airlock breaches. Watney’s second harvest is destroyed along with his compost. He does not have supplies to start his farm anew. He is once again threatened with starvation. NASA attempts to send him a resupply ship, but due to their haste, the rocket is destroyed in liftoff. Thanks to the Chinese, a second rocket is made available, but NASA is unsure if this second attempt will work.

A young astrodynamicist named Rich Purnell, discovers a “slingshot” trajectory that could get Hermes, the original spaceship that the crew is using to return to Earth, to whip around the Earth to gain speed and return to Mars faster than a second ship could. The chinese rocket could be used to send the supplies to Hermes so they and Watney would have enough air and food to survive, but this method would add an additional 500 days to their journey.

The space director is unwilling to risk the lives of the entire crew, but Captain Lewis learns of Purnell’s plan and decides to force the issue after taking it up with her crew. They are all willing to take the additional risk and the extra time in space if it will save their crewmate and friend.

Watney resumes his work on the rover and sets off on his long trek across the Martian surface to Ares 4. He faces many challenges along the way, each one of them coming close to killing him. The journey takes months of hard labor and loneliness. Meanwhile, Hermes is traveling back to Mars to get their man.

Will martian Mark Watney be rescued? You will need to read the book to find out.

The Martian Book CoverI read The Martian last year on a whim. I had heard good reviews on the story, but Weir was an unknown author to me who started out by posting his novel on a blog! While I am a supporter of independent authors, I am one myself after all, I was not sure if I was ready for a hard science SF novel. Well, my socks were blown off by this book and I fell in love with it. While the characters were not particularly deep, the sheer force of the depiction of living on the planet Mars with present day technology was astonishing. The planet Mars is as much a main character as Mark Watney and it is a powerful antagonist. As the logical mishaps befallen our astronaut, you start to root for the geeky Watney and his quest to stay alive long enough for NASA to rescue him. I could not put the book down.

The Martian is also a success story from an independent author point of view. This is Weir’s first novel and it was more a hobby to him than a career choice. By his own account he was not in writing to make a living. He hit the jackpot with his kindle book that snowballed into a traditional publishing deal and now a movie. It is every indy author’s dream and a one in a million circumstance. Kudos to Mr. Weir. I greatly look forward to his next novel.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Martian”

    1. I think Andy Weir’s story is what drew me to read his book, but the story and his writing made me a real fan. The film is fun too. I went out to see it a second time, this time in 3D. 🙂

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