By Georgia Edwards | Contributor
Little did Andy Weir know that the sci-fi serial he published on his website in 2011 would morph into the phenomenon it is today. The Martian, his novel about an American astronaut stranded on Mars, went from the Web to a 99-cent Kindle Direct book. Readers raved about it, and the book got the attention of Random House, which published the hardback version in 2014. Hollywood soon picked up the film rights, and The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, opened in theaters last month.
The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, one of six crewmembers on the Ares 3 mission to Mars. After a year’s travel from Earth to Mars’ orbit, the crew lands successfully. Earlier drops have provided life-sustaining provisions and research equipment, along with the Hab, the crew’s living quarters, and the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), in which they will return to Earth.
The success of the Ares 3’s landing is short lived. Six days into it, a violent dust storm forces NASA to scrub the mission. As the crew scrambles blindly to the MAV, Watney suffers an injury and loses consciousness. Once in the MAV, the team notices he is missing—his spacesuit is not issuing vital signs and he is assumed dead. After a weather-thwarted attempt to locate his body, the Ares crew must depart and leave him behind.
How the stranded astronaut survives on Mars is the core of the story. Watney uses his wits, mathematic calculations, chemistry background and a lot of duct tape to stay alive in the planet’s hostile environment. The author takes the challenges of Mars and becomes creatively inventive. His protagonist stays warm by digging up buried radioactive hardware and obtains water by setting hydrogen on fire. Potatoes become a reliable food source grown in Mars-made soil.
After picking up Watney’s activity on remote imagery, NASA learns that he is still alive. Contact is established and what follows is a nail-biting attempt to either devise a rescue or keep the astronaut alive until Ares 4 can arrive four years later. The story becomes a race between time, supplies, and the elements to save the marooned Watney.
Weir has made his book as scientifically accurate as possible. A former software engineer, he created a program to calculate all the orbital trajectories of the spacecraft. His math is meticulous; a reviewer from The Washington Post writes, “The Martian is like an advertisement for the importance of STEM education.” The story feels plausible due to the author’s knowledgeable background and research and the authentic portrayal of the future of space travel.
Watney is a likeable protagonist who is funny, resourceful and determined—Robinson Crusoe in a spacesuit. The tension-filled, life-threatening moments will keep the reader guessing whether he can safely survive his dire predicament and return to Earth. In Weir’s hands, The Martian goes beyond science fiction to become a testament to human ingenuity and resilience.