The Martian. The title probably stirs a vague sense of curiosity, as you mildly wonder what this book is about. Green-skinned aliens from another planet? An epic space invasion filled with “pew-pew” noises? Cheesy lines and a space romance? None of the above. The Martian isn’t your run-of-the-mill science fiction book, no, it’s much more.
The premise isn’t complicated. In the near future, astronaut Mark Watney is the fifth and final member of the Ares 3 crew. The Ares missions are a series of missions to Mars to study the planet. Ares 1 and Ares 2 were successes, however, on the 6th day of the Ares 3 mission, something went terribly wrong. During a freak sandstorm, Watney is separated from his crew and wakes up, finding himself a sojourner on the planet. With a dwindling supply of food, he must use his intelligence and perseverance to survive. When NASA and his own crewmates eventually figure out he is alive, NASA furiously figures out how to send supplies to Watney, while his crewmates begin hatching a bold plan to rescue him by themselves.
One of the main driving forces behind this book is the characters. The protagonist, Mark Watney, is funny and smart. His log entries recording his experiences reflect his perspective of life, and it’s simultaneously charming and hilarious. Even after experiencing death-defying circumstances and not-so-accidental accidents, his spirit isn’t forcefully bright, but he uses humor and sarcasm to cope. It’s easy to feel for him and laugh at his unending sense of humor. Author Andy Weir’s other characters are unique and endearing. Every member of the Ares 3 crew stands out in their own way, the dialogue subtly adding pieces of personality that add up to lifelike characters. Weir doesn’t fall into cliches either. The nerds at NASA aren’t written as the typical antisocial weirdos, but real people with different mindsets, goals, and personalities.
And you can bet that most of the science in the book is in fact, real. Author Andy Weir spent 25 years as a software engineer before he decided to write “The Martian” in 2011. When he first started publishing chapters on his personal blog, he got many messages from real-life chemists correcting some of the science used in his book. He even wrote computer software to check the orbital trajectories of the spacecraft in the story. Eventually, people asked him to publish the complete book, and he did so for 99 cents, the minimum price to release it on Amazon. That’s when the book blew up. Hundreds of thousands of people downloaded the book, and in a few months it skyrocketed to the top of Amazon’s Best Selling list. With all this attention came more feedback, and he continuously revised his writing making the book more and more accurate.
The tension in the book is the rocket fuel that launches it forwards. Weir doesn’t employ any cheap tactics in creating suspense, he has a reason and a cause for every incident in the story. Even so, the drama is tangible throughout the whole book, crescendoing in the scenes to dizzyingly unbearable heights.
In the end, the Martian is a book that could change the course of your life. Its scientific accuracy and down-to-earth characters (get it?) allow the reader to feel a sense of connection with the book, without making the overarching message sound cheesy. And its message is of the perseverance of the human race. That one day we will journey to the red planet, and that if Mark Watney can survive being abandoned on Mars, then we humans on Earth can get through tough times.