No Place Like Home
Mars really, really wants to kill Mark Watney.
Set in the near future, the novel The Martian by Andy Weir joins astronaut Watney when things aren’t looking great for his survival. Accidentally abandoned by his crew during an emergency evacuation as the US space program begins early manned explorations of Mars, Watney is completely alone on the red planet with no way off the surface or even means to communicate with NASA/Earth. It seems like nearly everyone’s first instinct would be to give up—dig into the medical kit and see how many pills you can swallow at once—but it turns out Mark Watney isn’t the give up type.
As Watney’s crew wasn’t the first to be there (he was on the third Ares mission to Mars, and there is expected to be at least one more), he has a couple of things going for him—a livable habitat (known as the Hab) with water- and oxygen-providing machines that will help keep him alive for a little while at least, botany and mechanical training, a collection of 70s TV shows and music left behind by the crew’s commander, and a ridiculously determined, vivacious spirit—all vital tools in a bitter fight for him to survive until the next mission to Mars is set to land… approximately four years in the future.
Apparently, author Andy Weir was a child prodigy, and I completely believe it with all the science and math that anchors the realism of this book (I didn’t check this apparent genius’s work though, so if it doesn’t hold water… eh, I’ve believed dumber things.). And while there is a lot of science and math, Weir infuses Watney with such an entertaining mind and spirit that it’s a joy, not a slog, to see him Will Hunting his way through his continuing survival problems.
Weir namechecks range from Aquaman to JPL, ABBA and Chrissy from Three’s Company to Pythagoras and Neil Armstrong, staying relatable but realistic and helping the reader to really root for Watney’s survival. The fight that everyone feels to try to get Watney home alive gives the world something to collectively cheer and strategize for, and while the tension is incredibly high and the stakes incredibly real, the payoff can be that much greater too.
I would definitely recommend The Martian if you are a layman space nerd like me, or if you are planning on a Mars vacation soon. There are some really good tips in there about what you should pack.