The Galactic Inquirer

Book Review: Andy Weir’s The Martian

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Andrew Taylor “Andy” Weir is an American novelist born on June 16, 1972 in Davis, California, USA. He is best known for his science fiction novel, The Martian, which was written and self-published in 2011. Three years later, Crown Publishing purchased the rights and re-released it. This novel has won awards including the Audie Award for Science Fiction and the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Science Fiction. Before becoming an author, Weir had a successful career as a software engineer until his debut novel, The Martian, became a huge success and allowed him to live out his dream job of being a full-time writer. In 2015, his novel was even created into a major motion picture that many know and love today. Throughout his life, he has maintained a great interest in space, science, and all things science fiction. His favorite topics to learn and read about include relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight.

Weir has written a few novels including fourteen short stories, his most popular short story being The Egg (2009), The Martian (2001), Artemis (2017), and most recently Cheshire Crossing (2019). The Egg is a short story about life, death, and the universe. In this reincarnation story, a man dies and is then told by God that he has been reincarnated many times before and will someday have been every single person ever, until he becomes a God himself. The Martian is Weir’s most popular novel about a man who was accidently left on Mars when his flight mates left abruptly to go back to Earth. Artemis is a futuristic novel about the first city on the Moon and a few of its citizens who get caught up in a conspiracy theory. Cheshire Crossing is a new graphic novel following the popular fiction characters Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy who team up to save Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz. Even though all of his novels and stories differ, Weir’s main focus is on science fiction and space.

The book’s topic and genre, science fiction, is very suitable for Weir. Growing up in a STEM-driven household, he was always learning about new theories and explorations within the science fiction realm. He had read many classic sci-fi novels written by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. His father was an accelerator physicist, and his mother an electrical engineer. At the young age of 15, he had his first job as a computer programmer at Sandia National Laboratories. Later in life, he attended UC San Diego’s computer science program, although he wasn’t able to graduate due to a lack of funds. Instead, he had several other jobs as a pc programmer for popular companies such as AOL, Blizzard, Palm, and Mobileletron.

The Martian is about Mark Watney, an astronaut who was accidentally stranded on the hot and dusty planet Mars without any ready means to get back home. It focuses on his life on Mars, his ways of surviving the hostile environment, and what he did to try and figure out a way to communicate to NASA back home. He tries to figure out a way to return to Earth or just to survive until a spaceship is able to return for him and take him back to Earth. First, he had to cobble together a system for communicating to NASA back on Earth that he was still alive! As the crew thought he died there due to a fierce storm, it took them a great deal of time to realize that he was, in fact, alive and waiting for them to rescue him. For Mark, it took a lot of effort, creativity, and knowledge to make his temporary stay on Mars work. Although he faced struggles like cultivating nutritional food, producing water for growing potatoes, surviving hard weather conditions, and using technology to create communication, he did not give up and used his strengths and engineering/botanical knowledge to survive. While Mark was struggling to make a temporary life for himself on Mars, NASA members and a team of international scientists back on Earth were doing everything they can to bring him home. While this was going on, his crew mates and close friends were hatching their own plan for a dangerous rescue mission to save him.

This novel is organized into 26 chapters. However,there are many “Log Entries” by Mark and he times them by saying the “Sol” which is what planetary astronomers use to refer to the duration of a solar day on Mars. A Martian solar day, or “Sol”, is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. This term is usually a replacement for the word “day” that astronomers would use on Earth.

Throughout the novel, Weir writes the book from the perspective of the astronaut Mark Watney. He writes with a tone of hope and a bit of gallows humor. The hope is that humans will work together to help one another when someone is in danger or peril. From his time on Mars, Watney most of the time seems to keep a feeling of hope and positivity that he will find resources and use his own skills to keep himself alive. He creates a plant system in order to grow potatoes to eat as well as a water filtration and production machine. He rations his food and calculates just how much he can eat to survive day by day. Despite the dark undertones of the novel and the extreme danger and negativity of Watney’s situation, the mood throughout the novel seems to be lighthearted and happy as shown through Mark Watney’s personality and joke-like manner. The author also uses a dual setting, being both on Mars and on Earth, to create a back and forth feeling, resembling the feeling of uneasiness that Mark felt while being stranded.

In my opinion, Weir’s writing was excellent in the fact that even though he was writing a piece of science fiction, of which I know little to nothing about, I was able to understand and follow along while being entertained. He used words that were easy to understand but still at a level where I felt I was reading a professional piece and so was intrigued by the vocabulary he used. I also enjoyed the fact that it was written from the perspective of the main character, Mark Watney. This helped make the novel even more interesting while helping the reader to feel like they are right there with Mark on Mars.

What impressed me the most about this novel was not so much the actual story itself but instead the historical and scientific accuracy of the story. Weir spent countless hours researching the history of manned spaceflight, the living conditions on Mars, and the orbital mechanics/astrodynamics involving spacecraft. That way, his book The Martian would be as scientifically accurate as possible. Even though the novel was primarily written for science lovers or as Weir sometimes calls them “space geeks”, many other readers who have little to no science background have loved it as well. The novel is packed with detailed aerospace technology and the fact that Weir was a former computer science specialist makes it even more interesting that he knew so much of this other type of science. Spacesuits were another aspect of the novel that can be hard to understand by many. Weir’s descriptions of the abilities and limits of the characters’ spacesuits were modeled after the real spacesuits used by NASA astronauts, thus adding to the book’s authenticity. The terms, phrases, conditions, and actions used and explained are just like how they would be if one was actually stranded and living on Mars. It was so interesting to learn about all the different plants, rocks, environmental terms, planetary terms, and other common words used in astronomy. Through my astronomy class at Endicott College, I have learned so much about space, the planets, and astronomy in general that has helped me to pick up on certain things within the book regarding Mars and its larger context in space.

Personally, there were not many factors of the book that bothered me. I enjoyed reading it and learning about Mars and how Watney used his skills to survive and escape. The main thing that bothered me was just the fact that I had seen the movie a few years before I was able to read the book. Back in high school, my engineering class watched The Martian in class when we were learning about the chapter on aerospace engineering. I thought that it was such a powerful and interesting movie that when I heard we had to do a book report on an astronomically-based novel, I wanted to do it on The Martian. I wish that I would have been able to read the book first because I feel that it was more scientifically accurate and it was easier knowing the emotions and thoughts running through Watney’s head. It was easier to connect with the main character while reading the book because I knew exactly what was going through his head and how he learned to face adversity.

 I highly recommend this novel to any potential readers who are looking for a good read involving adventure, science-fiction, and hope. This book will keep you on your toes while teaching you important lessons of troubleshooting, perseverance, and positivity even in the face of despair. Whether you are a science/space lover with great astronomy expertise or just someone who likes a good read, I guarantee that this book will not only interest you but educate you on astronomical topics that you normally may never have learned unless you read this book.

After reading this novel, I feel that I have a better understanding of space, Mars, and all the different things that one has to consider when starting a new life on a planet. If you think about it, our lives here on Earth are so easy and we take them for granted because we already have most survival things figured out. We have water, filtration systems, food, farming, and everything else needed to have a comfortable life here on Earth. As for Mars, when Watney was stranded on the planet, he did not have the resources or the necessary knowledge to obtain those same resources as we do on Earth. He had to overcome so many struggles and gain new knowledge to try to just create the basics for living on a planet that no one yet has inhabited. This book gives the reader the opportunity to think outside the box and be creative with how they would guess the end of the book to end. Andy Weir uses foreshadowing at times in the novel when he flashes forward to indicate key equipment failures, as well allusion when talking about 1970s pop culture like when Watney says “How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” Through using various literary devices, astronomical terminology, aerospace topics, and other aspects of NASA, the reader not only is given a glimpse into the aerospace world but is also able to use their imagination to picture the challenging aspects of survival on another world.

Amelia George is an undergraduate student at Endicott College in Beverly MA, majoring in Sport Management.

Works Cited

“Books by Andy Weir (Author of The Martian).” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/author/list/6540057.Andy_Weir.

Lundquist, Molly. “Martian (Weir) – Author Bio.” The Martian – Andy Weir – Author Biography, Lit Lovers , www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/9666-martian-weir?start=1.

PeoplePill. “Andy Weir: American Writer – Biography, Life, Family, Career, Facts, Information.” PeoplePill, peoplepill.com/people/andy-weir-1/.

Weir, Andy. “About Andy Weir.” Andy Weir, www.andyweirauthor.com/bios/andy-weir.

Weir, Andy. The Martian. Thorndike Press, 2011.

Book cover credit:  Crown Publishing

Other picture credits:  20th Century Fox

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