Staff Review: The Martian

The Martian book cover

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book is a remarkable work of future-fiction, in that it requires few if any advances in science beyond things currently on the drawing board. In fact, only the actual force of windstorms on Mars is outside of our current reality, a science “mistake” needed to make the story happen. The author says there is another mistake which he did NOT intend, apparently a miscalculation in the heat produced by one of the actions taken in the story, but the vast majority of the readers won’t even notice that one.

The plot itself is a basic one, that of a castaway trying to survive against extreme conditions and difficult odds, but the location and circumstances are what make this story different. The central character has been cast away on Mars, due to an accident during the emergency evacuation of the third manned mission to Mars.

The central character, Mark, has two defining features: a high level of fix-it skills, combined with a smart-alecky sense of humor which keeps him going even things appear to be at their worst. Is there a rescue coming? If so, can he stretch his resources long enough to be alive if and when it comes? Those are the key questions around which the bulk of the story is centered. It’s the ultimate castaway scenario, in that there are no other human beings within millions of miles, and no backup plan if anything incapacitates the central character. Everything key to his own survival has to come from limited resources and his own knowledge and skill. Never has a human being been so alone.

My own feeling is that the story could have done without quite so many catastrophic accidents, but that on-again, off-again tension kept the reader guessing what would or could happen next. It makes Robinson Crusoe look tame by comparison, since he survived in an environment which was relatively benign.

It’s easy to see why Ridley Scott wanted to make this into a movie, which has just gone into production.

-Nick S., Central Library