The Martian

Andy Weir
The Martian Cover

The Martian


If Andy Weir isn't up for the Hugo next year, then scifi fandom doesn't deserve good fiction anymore, because The Martian is pure awesome sauce.

Left behind on Mars after a freak dust storm puts a hole in his suit and buries him, Mark Watney–astronaut, biologist, engineer–knows that the odds are against him returning back to Earth again. But he'll be damned if he's not going to do his best to make it happen. He doesn't have anyway to communicate with Earth, his food is running short–far too short to last until NASAsends a rescue, and, to boot, NASA thinks he's dead, anyway.

What more could go wrong?

Full credit goes to Howard Tayler for recommending The Martian on an episode of "Writing Excuses." Thank you, Howard (go buy his books)!

Though it's been described as Apollo 13 meets Castaway (and probably you could useRobinson Crusoe meets Apollo 13, too, since that's what Castaway is based on), I found it far more exciting. No,you won't find any lasers guns, alien encounters, or Martian princesses (you'll need to go look up Edgar Rice Burroughs for that), but the story is gripping from page one and it doesn't let up until the very last paragraph.

Not only is it exciting (and how he manages to make being stranded on a frigid desert planet millions of miles from Earth is impressive in itself), but Weir spares no effort to build Watney's character along the way, making him not only sympathetic, but interesting and entertaining, even when Watney is explaining the technical details of how he is saving himself from yet another crisis during his Martian sojourn. And there are a lot of crises.

Which leads me to another thing that Weir does so well: the science. First off, I'm not a scientist, and second, I'm pretty sure we haven't yet developed a lot of the technology that Weir brings to bear as part of his imaginary Martian expedition. But it sure felt like it. I would not be surprised if most of the technology Weir uses in his book is out there, maybe even part of NASA's arsenal, just not perfected, yet, or ready for application on a Mars mission.

The level of detail Weir provides, though, is enough to provide the how, but not so much as to provide a nap. There's no "handwaivium" or application of Clarke's law, here. Rather, it's technology just a few years ahead of our own, making an expedition (or two or three) to Mars credible (if we could all just forget the cost for a few minutes, as well as the public's aversion to all things extraterrestrial and not produced by Hollywood). What Weir adds is a fantastic job of explaining the tech without coming off like an engineer.

Have you had an engineer explain something? Trust me. It's not exciting.

Weir fools us all, though, with great lines, dripping with sarcasm as Watney McGuyver's his way across the surface of Mars and to survival. Some of my favorites?

With great character development, page flipping writing, and an edge-of-your-seat plot, Weir's The Martian might be the best book I've read so far this year, and I hope it'll be on the short list for the Hugo in 2015. Scifi needs more like it and giving Weir scifi's top award would be a great step in that direction.