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The Martian: A Novel Hardcover – February 11, 2014
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The inspiration for the major motion picture
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
NAMED ONE OF PASTE’S BEST NOVELS OF THE DECADE
“A hugely entertaining novel [that] reads like a rocket ship afire . . . Weir has fashioned in Mark Watney one of the most appealing, funny, and resourceful characters in recent fiction.”—Chicago Tribune
“As gripping as they come . . . You’ll be rooting for Watney the whole way, groaning at every setback and laughing at his pitchblack humor. Utterly nail-biting and memorable.”—Financial Times
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From award-winning author Rachel Lacey comes the second installment in the Ms. Right series: a captivating romance about a reluctant bookseller finding love in unexpected places.| Learn more
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8 Tips for Surviving on Mars from Andy Weir
So you want to live on Mars. Perhaps it’s the rugged terrain, beautiful scenery, or vast natural landscape that appeals to you. Or maybe you’re just a lunatic who wants to survive in a lifeless barren wasteland. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you should know:
1: You’re going to need a pressure vessel.
Mars’s atmospheric pressure is less than one percent of Earth’s. So basically, it’s nothing. Being on the surface of Mars is almost the same as being in deep space. You better bring a nice, sturdy container to hold air in. By the way, this will be your home forever. So try to make it as big as you can.
2: You’re going to need oxygen.
You probably plan to breathe during your stay, so you’ll need to have something in that pressure vessel. Fortunately, you can get this from Mars itself. The atmosphere is very thin, but it is present and it’s almost entirely carbon dioxide. There are lots of ways to strip the carbon off carbon dioxide and liberate the oxygen. You could have complex mechanical oxygenators or you could just grow some plants.
3: You’re going to need radiation shielding.
Earth’s liquid core gives it a magnetic field that protects us from most of the nasty crap the sun pukes out at us. Mars has no such luxury. All kinds of solar radiation gets to the surface. Unless you’re a fan of cancer, you’re going to want your accommodations to be radiation-shielded. The easiest way to do that is to bury your base in Martian sand and rocks. They’re not exactly in short supply, so you can just make the pile deeper and deeper until it’s blocking enough.
4: You’re going to need water.
Again, Mars provides. The Curiosity probe recently discovered that Martian soil has quite a lot of ice in it. About 35 liters per cubic meter. All you need to do is scoop it up, heat it, and strain out the water. Once you have a good supply, a simple distillery will allow you to reuse it over and over.
5: You’re going to need food.
Just eat Martians. They taste like chicken.
6: Oh, come on.
All right, all right. Food is the one thing you need that can’t be found in abundance on Mars. You’ll have to grow it yourself. But you’re in luck, because Mars is actually a decent place for a greenhouse. The day/night cycle is almost identical to Earth’s, which Earth plants evolved to optimize for. And the total solar energy hitting the surface is enough for their needs.
But you can’t just grow plants on the freezing, near-vacuum surface. You’ll need a pressure container for them as well. And that one might have to be pretty big. Just think of how much food you eat in a year and imagine how much space it takes to grow it.
Hope you like potatoes. They’re the best calorie yield per land area.
7: You’re going to need energy.
However you set things up, it won’t be a self-contained system. Among other things, you’ll need to deal with heating your home and greenhouse. Mars’s average daily temperature is -50C (-58F), so it’ll be a continual energy drain to keep warm. Not to mention the other life support systems, most notably your oxygenator. And if you’re thinking your greenhouse will keep the atmosphere in balance, think again. A biosphere is far too risky on this scale.
8: You’re going to need a reason to be there.
Why go out of your way to risk your life? Do you want to study the planet itself? Start your own civilization? Exploit local resources for profit? Make a base with a big death ray so you can address the UN while wearing an ominous mask and demand ransom? Whatever your goal is, you better have it pretty well defined, and you better really mean it. Because in the end, Mars is a harsh, dangerous place and if something goes wrong you’ll have no hope of rescue. Whatever your reason is, it better be worth it.
“Terrific stuff, a crackling good read that devotees of space travel will devour like candy…succeeds on several levels and for a variety of reasons, not least of which is its surprising plausibility.”—USA Today
“An impressively geeky debut…the technical details keep the story relentlessly precise and the suspense ramped up. And really, how can anyone not root for a regular dude to prove the U-S-A still has the Right Stuff?”--Entertainment Weekly
“Gripping…[features] a hero who can solve almost every problem while still being hilarious. It’s hard not to be swept up in [Weir’s] vision and root for every one of these characters. Grade: A.”—AVClub.com
“Andy Weir delivers with The Martian...a story for readers who enjoy thrillers, science fiction, non-fiction, or flat-out adventure [and] an authentic portrayal of the future of space travel.”--Associated Press
"A gripping tale of survival in space [that] harkens back to the early days of science fiction by masters such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke."--San Jose Mercury News
“One of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time. It feels so real it could almost be nonfiction, and yet it has the narrative drive and power of a rocket launch. This is Apollo 13 times ten.”
--Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Impact and Blasphemy
“A book I just couldn’t put down! It has the very rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters and fascinating technical accuracy…reads like “MacGyver” meets “Mysterious Island.”
--Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
"The best book I've read in ages. Clear your schedule before you crack the seal. This story will take your breath away faster than a hull breech. Smart, funny, and white-knuckle intense, The Martian is everything you want from a novel."
--Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of Wool
“The Martian kicked my ass! Weir has crafted a relentlessly entertaining and inventive survival thriller, a MacGyver-trapped-on-Mars tale that feels just as real and harrowing as the true story of Apollo 13.”
—Ernest Cline, New York Times bestselling author of Ready Player One
“Gripping…shapes up like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as written by someone brighter.”
--Larry Niven, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the Ringworld series and Lucifer’s Hammer
“Humankind is only as strong as the challenges it faces, and The Martian pits human ingenuity (laced with more humor than you’d expect) against the greatest endeavor of our time — survival on Mars. A great read with an inspiring attention to technical detail and surprising emotional depth. Loved it!"
--Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse
“The tension simply never lets up, from the first page to the last, and at no point does the believability falter for even a second. You can't shake the feeling that this could all really happen.”
—Patrick Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Breach and Ghost Country
"Strong, resilent, and gutsy. It's Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 21st century style. Set aside a chunk of free time when you start this one. You're going to need it because you won't want to put it down."
—Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The King’s Deception and The Columbus Affair
“An excellent first novel…Weir laces the technical details with enough keen wit to satisfy hard science fiction fan and general reader alike [and] keeps the story escalating to a riveting conclusion.”—Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
"Riveting...a tightly constructed and completely believable story of a man's ingenuity and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds."--Booklist
“Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery…Weir displays a virtuosic ability to write about highly technical situations without leaving readers far behind. The result is a story that is as plausible as it is compelling.”—Kirkus
"Weir combines the heart-stopping with the humorous in this brilliant debut novel...by placing a nail-biting life-and-death situation on Mars and adding a snarky and wise-cracking nerdy hero, Weir has created the perfect mix of action and space adventure."--Library Journal (starred)
“A perfect novel in almost every way, The Martian may already have my vote for best book of 2014.”—Crimespree Magazine
“A page-turning thriller…this survival tale with a high-tech twist will pull you right in.”—Suspense Magazine
- Publisher : Ballantine Books; NO-VALUE edition (February 11, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0804139024
- ISBN-13 : 978-0804139021
- Reading age : 13+ years, from customers
- Lexile measure : HL680L
- Item Weight : 1.28 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.42 x 1.22 x 9.42 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2021
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I've never been much of a novel reader; I've always been the "Why read the book when you can watch the movie" type. I totally understand and acknowledge that it's a smart-ass attitude, and also recognize that it reflects a certain amount laziness and ignorance. Nevertheless, I'd say before I opened an account on Audible.com it had been at least 5 years since I last read a novel. I opened the account just over 3 months ago as a trial, because I spend 30-45 minutes each way driving to work, and frankly I had grown weary of all the NFL draft discussion, speculation, and subsequent analysis on sports-talk radio here in Jacksonville. Don't get me wrong. I think Blake Bortles is awesome and I can't wait to see him play for the Jags, but there are only so many ways you can analyze his throwing motion and potential before he ever plays an NFL game. Since I opened the account I've read [listened to] 4 books: one sci-fi thriller, one self-help, one classic and one educational. I really enjoyed the sci-fi so I checked the recommendations based on that book and found _The Martian_ by Andy Weir. I read some reviews, then read the first couple pages with the Amazon "Look Inside" feature, and I was immediately hooked. I also found that it was substantially less expensive to purchase the Kindle version first on Amazon, then purchase the Audible version in order to enable a feature called Whispersync. So I made the purchases and added _The Martian_ to both the Kindle and Audible libraries. I have no intentions of actually physically reading the book, but hey, money is money.
I wanted to jump into the book immediately, but there was one obstacle. There is a podcast I listen to called "This Week in Photo." I moonlight as a photographer and I love the show. It drops every Friday afternoon-ish and, based on the last handful of episodes, averages roughly 75 minutes, so I normally try to listen to it on the ride home from work on Friday and finish it on my Monday drive to and from work. Since I've been listening to books, I've completely ignored TWiP, so now I have a 12 episode backlog. That's roughly 900 minutes, or 15 hours of TWiP. I haven't missed an episode in at least 5 years, and I have no intentions of missing any of these. Frederick Van Johnson is the host of TWiP, and ironically it was his sponsor pieces for Audible that encouraged and convinced me to open the account. So Frederick, THANK you for helping me to discover Audible! And **** you for causing this massive backlog. :)
I'm making myself a rule that I cannot listen to any more books until I get caught up on TWiP. If I estimate that each leg of my drive to work is 37 minutes, it would take roughly 24.3 legs to work through the backlog of TWiPs. I'll factor in an estimate of 5 legs of silence (call me crazy, but occasionally I enjoy driving to work in silence), 8 legs to get my sports-talk radio fix, and I'll generously add 8 "random" legs for phone calls, music etc, and I'm at just over 45 legs. Considering that that's 4.5 work weeks I'll need to allot time for 5 more TWiPs which will be an additional 10.1 legs. So all total I should be caught up in roughly 56 legs, or 28 workdays, or 5.6 weeks. It's a long time, but when I'm driving to and from work, time is something I have plenty of. Time to get busy listening to TWiP.
Log Entry: _The Martian_ Day 33
I finished all the TWiPs and I'm glad I did it. A few days ahead of schedule too. It helped that I had a few evening and weekend photography gigs that were a relatively long distance from my house, so I had plenty of extra time to listen. From now on Friday and Monday are designated TWiP days. Today I began _The Martian_. 10 hours and 53 minutes. I used the Audible app to download it to my iPhone and listened to it the entire way to and from work. 9 hours, 36 minutes remaining.
Log Entry: _The Martian_ Day 34
One quick note. You may notice that my name is Jennifer, but that is incorrect. I opened our Audible account under my wife's Amazon account, which she had before we were married. You aren't truly committed to your spouse until you share an Amazon account. My wife is not nearly the geek I am, so I wanted to clear up any confusion before I went further. My name is James. Nice to meet you.
I came up with a solid plan today. I *really* enjoyed listening to _The Martian_ yesterday and I have no reason to believe I'm not going to absolutely love the rest of the book. On September 19 I'm leaving for Tuscaloosa to photograph the Florida/Alabama game. It's an 8 hour drive each way and I'll be driving alone. This book would be perfect to pass the time. After some serious consideration, I've decided I'm going to suspend all listening of _The Martian_ until Sept. 19. I listened to sports-talk radio today while I devised a plan for my next listen.
Log entry: _The Martian_ Day 35
I was real gung ho yesterday about The Tuscaloosa Plan. It's a stupid idea, and I'm not doing it. I listened to the book for the entire drive to and from work, then sat in the driveway for an additional 4 minutes waiting for a good stopping point. I'm finding myself looking forward to getting back into the truck to listen to the book. This is a really good read [listen]. If you have any recommendations for the Tuscaloosa trip, I'm all ears. 8 hours, 17 minutes remaining.
Log entry: _The Martian_ Day 36
I listened to sports-talk radio in the morning today, and _The Martian_ on the drive home. During the drive home I had to endure one of the mini-monsoon wind storms that have become a way of life on summer afternoons here in Florida. I drove past 3 crashes on I-95 and traffic was pretty slow. It took me 1 hour and 13 minutes to get home. Didn't even notice. Then I sat in the driveway for a few minutes to get to a stopping point. 7 hours, 1 minute remaining.
Log Entry: _The Martian_ Day 37
When I first opened our Audible account, I made a personal rule that I could only listen to books when I'm in the car or when I'm exercising. Even with the childish attitude toward books that I explained above, I still cannot bring myself to actually *LAY AROUND THE HOUSE* while somebody else reads me a book. Granted, I've done exactly zero exercise so far, but hey this is a book review, not a confessional of my exercise habits. This rule, combined with the lack of exercise, does however severely limit the amount of book consumption I do on the weekends. Today is Friday. I listened to _The Martian_ in the morning, and TWiP on the ride home. 6 hours, 25 minutes remaining.
Log Entry: _The Martian_ Day 37 (2)
Friday nights aren't what they used to be. Back in my younger days before marriage and kids, I would spend the evening at some loud disco tech, probably have way too much fun, and wake up Saturday morning feeling like I was hit by a Martian rover. These days we put the kids to bed by 8ish and I'm in bed by 11 or 12 and ready for an early Saturday morning. After the kids were tucked in I came back downstairs, clicked on the TV and plopped down onto my couch for some good old deceleration time.
It's amazing how you can have over 200 channels and still not find a single thing to watch. Three's Company? Nope. Cubs game? Nope. Agatha Christie mystery? Nope. VH1 Behind The Music: Elton John? Maybe... Then I remembered, "Wait a second! Didn't I buy the Kindle version of _The Martian_ too??" My rule has always been that I can't listen to any books when I'm sitting around the house, but I never placed any restrictions on actually reading the books! If I'm willing to actually read a book, then that's a good thing, right?? When I first purchased the book, I never had any intention of physically reading it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I went and found my wife's iPad (the kids' Kindles were on lockdown, and I don't know the password), opened the Kindle app, downloaded the book which was already sitting in the library, and what do you know? It placed me exactly where I finished listening to the book this afternoon. Isn't technology amazing??
Log entry: _The Martian_ Day 40
It was a super busy weekend and I didn't have much spare time, but whenever I did have a few spare moments, I tried to read a chapter or so. Jenn asked me twice this weekend if she should take my temperature. I declined both times. In total, I made it from page 152 to page 330 (out of 369). Today is Monday so it was a TWiP day. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to finish _The Martian_ tomorrow. Looking forward to it. 39 pages remaining.
Log entry: _The Martian_ Day 41
I woke up and went to work early this morning, just so I could get a jump on the book. I opened up the Audible app and started listening immediately. I remembered reading the words that I was listening to, and immediately realized I was out of sync. It seemed close enough though, so I decided it would be a good thing to just re-listen to some of the material as a refresher. Plus I was driving and didn't want to fumble with the phone. As it turns out, I listened to a total of 21 minutes before I got to any new material, and finished the morning drive with 56 minutes remaining. I'm sure the sync issue was something I did in my haste to start listening, but the fact remains; unless I have major traffic on the way home, it looks like I'll be altering my plans and finishing this book tomorrow on the way to work.
Log entry: _The Martian_ Day 41 (2)
I was left behind by my normal lunch group at work today. It wasn't their fault. I had implied that I was in for lunch but also said I needed to resolve a pressing issue and that it might take some extra time. They misunderstood and went on without me. Just to be clear, it was NOT their fault I was left behind. After a few minutes of scrambling around for another group, I finally came to the realization that I would be dining alone. Then I remembered the book. I had 56 minutes left in the book, and with a projected 37 minute drive home that evening, I would be left with 19 minutes of content, in what could potentially be the most exciting part of the book. So I decided to skip the cafeteria and go solo out to lunch, in order to close that gap and ensure that I will finish the book on the ride home. I chose an Applebee's that Google maps told me was a 9 minute drive from the office, plus I estimated 2 minutes each for exit and reentry into the parking garage. If I listened to the book from the office to Applebee's and back, I projected that I would have 34 minutes remaining in the book, a perfect amount to finish on the ride home. All went as planned and when I returned to the office I had 33 minutes remaining in the book. I finished out my work day, got back in the truck and immediately settled in for the finale of _The Martian_. There was some traffic but not much, and I completed the book with 7 minutes remaining on my drive home; just enough time to decompress and wrap my head around the whole of what I had just read and listened to.
_The Martian_ was without a doubt the most satisfying book I've ever read. I looked forward to every opportunity I had to listen to or read the book, and there wasn't a single point that I felt I had to trudge through or glaze over. I laughed and I cried.
I hear a movie will be coming out in late 2015, starring Matt Damon and Directed by Ridley Scott. I can't wait see it, so I can be the guy that proudly boasts about how much better the book is.
Highly Recommended, and not just for geeks like me.
I have a bit of a lover's quarrel with this one. The plot (lone crew member gets stranded on Mars), setting (Mars) and scientific integrity (there's a lot of good science here) would seem to be the perfect blend for a target audience that is me. But then there's Mark Watney, or as I like to call him: the teenager in an EVA suit. Crafted of equal parts cocky and corny, The Martian`s main character makes the male cohort on The Big Bang Theory seem downright intoxicating. Each time you're about to settle into the sci-fi goodness unfolding on the blood-red planet, Watney's juvenility and hackeneyed attempts at humor rear up to depressurize the drama and poison the narrative atmosphere. I did not connect with this character, at all.
Here's an exchange between Watney and NASA Mission Control in which Watney can't help but lay on the prepubescent charm:
[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We're assuming the other side is identical. You're cleared to start drilling.
[12:07] Watney: That's what she said.
[12:04] JPL: We'll get botanists in to ask detailed questions and double-check your work. Your life is at stake, so we want to be sure. Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.
[12:15] Watney: Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)
...What am I reading? Is this sci-fi or middle school? I'm all for bucking stereotypes--like the urbane, straight-laced NASA astronaut Weir apparently had in mind--but Watney is a stride too far in the opposite direction. On occasion the dullish teen-speak gives way to genuine wit, but such instances are too few and far between that the bad taste in my mouth never left. That said, I do expect reader mileage to vary on this score.
I could probably look the other way if the supporting cast were infused with greater dimensionality, but it's hardly the case. The crew deliver dialogue every bit as stilted and cliched, their interactions adding nothing of substance to the narrative. Here's one crew member chatting with his wife back home:
Martinez: "So, you're pissed."
Marissa: "I have to wait another 533 days to get laid!"
Martinez: "So do I," he said defensively.
A World Away
But not even Watney's itchy tongue and forgettable dialogue are enough to dash an epic quest on a foreign world. This is Mars after all, our second closest neighbor and perennial sci-fi favorite. In this outing a crew of six travel to Mars for NASA's third manned mission, known as Ares 3. While out on expedition, a nasty storm sweeps up and amid the chaos one crew member is struck by a wayward antenna carried by the high-powered surface winds. With his comms no longer transmitting, the crew is unable to locate the downed engineer. Fearing the destruction of their return vehicle, the crew abandon the search and conclude that Mars has claimed its first human casualty.
Except Ares 3 leaves behind more than an unforgivable environment. They leave one of their own, bruised and battered, but not exactly dead. It's now Watney vs. the Red Planet, a match less lopsided than one might think. Mars' razor thin atmosphere, brutal cold, active weather and craggy terrain all serve as redoubtable antagonists Watney must overcome to secure a return trip home. Imagine being all alone on a planet climatically hostile to your kind of life with dwindling resources, no return vessel and no contact with the only people who can bring you one. Even the best odds of survival would be Planck length-low.
Fortunately, our deserted soul is no slouch. What Watney lacks in charisma he more than makes up for in sheer intelligence and technical brilliance. Mars' first "colonizer" wears the hats of botanist and mechanical engineer, and is a person for whom "asleep at the wheel" would be a most inapt descriptor. If MacGyver, Rube Goldberg and Robinson Crusoe were to have some kind of hybrid child, Watney would be it. The man's a dynamo, as pragmatically minded, resourceful and resilient as they come. It's probably why he was chosen for a NASA mission.
He's also utterly determined to make it back to Earth. As Watney awakes groggy-eyed and the true extent of his plight comes into focus, his indomitable survivalism takes over and doesn't let up. He quickly realizes it will require every ounce of his scientific acumen to hold out until the next scheduled NASA mission, at which time an aghast Ares 4 crew would set eyes on one weary astronaut. His botany training is used to create a renewable source of food from little more than potato seeds and "homegrown" fertilizer. He employs some fancy chemistry in order to maintain a breathable atmosphere and reliable (though radiatively unstable) heat source. And every whit of Watney's engineering know-how is spent on preparing the rover for a transplanetary jaunt over Mars' surly, rough-and-tumble terrain.
Watney's time on Mars is relayed through daily first-person logs that record his progress in addition to a few clunky transitions to third-person omniscient. Provided you don't mind being submerged in technical detail, these logs may just win you over as they did me. This is science at its most raw and ad hoc. The meticulous cataloging succeeds in connecting you to the action as Watney slaps together one near-suicidal scheme after another.
Just as we might expect of someone marooned 140 million miles (annual average) from all of civilization, our hero is never allowed too much comfort. Part of the allure is seeing what hellish scenario presents itself next and how Watney's ingenuity and moxie will combine to solve it away. Better yet, all of the science here is kosher, otherwise known as "hard" sci-fi. Watney won't run into any boogeymen or Martian monsters in this one, but the trials he does chance upon are every bit as deadly. With each setback and triumph, no specifics are spared the reader, as complex concepts are unspooled with ease and clarity.
Andy Weir, something of a prodigy himself, started out as a computer programmer at age 15. For him, science can be both a hobby and a narrative device. But Weir's goal was not just to use sciencey tropes to drive the story forward, but to make Watney's exploits as scientifically plausible as possible. He released some early chapters online as a free serial novel, which quickly garnered interest from fans and scientists alike. Weir incorporated their technical feedback for the final print edition, making The Martian a kind of collective effort by science enthusiasts.
What results is a unique blend of survivalist sci-fi and problem-solving escapades told through excruciatingly detailed science. Could one human really survive on Mars with standard NASA equipage? The answer is surely yes, if Watney has anything to say about it. All of his interdisciplinary expertise is on display for the reader to either absorb, deconstruct and debunk, or skim over until the next existential disaster strikes.
Technical readers will fall head over heels working through the minutia, while the less initiated may find their eyes glazing over, but both audiences will come away having learned something new. The thoroughness of it all is really what pulled me in and lent the story its strong scent of credibility. There's no deus ex machina here. If Watney didn't die in the previous chapter, it's because he used science to decatastrophize the latest curveball Mars threw his way. It's satisfying in a way that "softer" sci-fi tropes aren't.
Don't Leave Home Without Them
Before wrapping up the review, I thought I'd briefly walk through a few pieces of equipment that recur throughout the story. These are absolutely vital to Watney's survival, and given how often they're mentioned it might be helpful to have a quick reference here for those looking to embark on Weir's planetary safari. The "Big Three" are:
- Oxygenator. A machine that strips apart the carbon atoms from the CO2 that Watney exhales and retains the oxygen atoms. Relies on the atmospheric regulator for the CO2; worthless without it.
- Atmospheric regulator. A machine that monitors the molecular gas concentrations in the air, removing and resupplying CO2 and O2 as necessary. Too much oxygen (oxygen toxicity) is just as dangerous as too much carbon dioxide (hypercapnia).
- Water reclaimer. A machine that salvages and purifies water from virtually anything that gives off moisture, including humidity from the air when Watney exhales or sweats in the pressurized environments, waste waters from the Hab's fuel cells, and even Watney's urine. If this sounds disgusting, it's worth noting that the reclaimers NASA employs on their manned missions use three-step purification.
In The Martian, science is front and center, assuming the roles of protagonist and antagonist and is the driving mechanism that allows forward progress for the hero. If chemistry, biology and physics aren’t your speed, you won’t last long on this cerebral joyride. Much of the narrative hovers just on the edge of possible, and Weir’s technical accuracy and attention to detail were more than enough to keep me glued, even if Watney’s unsavory personality and the stilted character interactions frequently left me out in the cold.
Were the grade-school script and throwaway dialogue intentional juxtapositions to compensate for the technical nature of much of the rest of the book—a lighthearted, expletive-suffused respite to allow your brain a cooldown period from the stress and heavy lifting? Perhaps, but I think they could have been handled much better, as I found the contrast jarring, often piercing the tension at several inopportune moments. I also simply found the attempts at humor largely nonfunctional, though I acknowledge the subjectivity on this account. Quibbles aside, The Martian is well researched space fiction that manages to capture mankind’s relentless will to survive, an orchestra of science in which limited resources and unlimited creativity battle to the last breath.
Top reviews from other countries
I knew that The Martian by Andy Weir was achieving high ratings and that it was to be a movie starring Matt Damon (excellent choice) but I had no idea it was going to be so engaging and so frequently hilarious. Author, Andy Weir, certainly has a witty way of expressing himself and as Weir's words appear in Watney's mind and tumble out of Watney's mouth, all I could do was laugh. There is some tension in the book (will Watney survive or not) but not much. Mostly it's an awful lot of scientific explanation as to how Watney strives to survive and NASA strive to help him. I found that fascinating but if you aren't the least bit interested in even basic science, I cannot imagine you'll get much out of this book. I appreciated the way Andy Weir used science fact to get his character both in and out of the tightest corners and to make the story more plausible. What was sadly lacking was a glossary of terms at the back of the book. Weir uses a lot of scientific terminology, not to mention acronyms, and mostly without any explanation. While reading, I did wonder though why Mark Watney had a problem with his space suit only giving him oxygen?
I also wondered how a botanist and mechanical engineer, would know so much about chemistry and physics—but it's a good thing he did! I expect that the author did resort to at least some artistic license here.
Before buying the paperback, I had bought the Kindle version. There is a map at the front of the book (printed and ebook). On the ebook, if you click on the map you can zoom in, in order to be able to see detail better. The Kindle dictionary came in useful, as did the facility for highlighting and making notes, as well as doing searches of the book. But I still wanted a printed version on one of my bookshelves, so I bought that recently. I once had a movie blog and actually wrote myself a guide to the terms in the book because, well, I'm no scientist and I wanted to understand the science behind everything that Weir threw at me! I've pasted in a text version here. All errors are undoubtedly mine, so please forgive!
Acidalia Planitia - A large flat region on Mars where the Ares 3 team landed, and Mark and the Hab is located.
Aeroshell - Protective shell during launch and landing (in this case, the Iris probe).
Ammonia (azane) - A chemical compound of Nitrogen and Hydrogen - NH₃ (one atom nitrogen, three atoms hydrogen). A colourless, corrosive, and irritant gas with pungent odour.
Arabia Terra - One of the dustiest areas on Mars.
Ares programmes - NASA missions to Mars. Mark Watney arrives on Ares 3 mission, Sol (day) 1. 124 days journey from Earth to Mars. Three years to execute mission. Ares 4 expected to arrive at Sciaparelli crater on Sol 1425.
ASCII - American Standard Code for information interchange, a set of digital codes representing letters, numerals and other characters.
Atmosphere - Gases surrounding Earth and other planets.
Atmospheric Pressure - The pressure exerted by the weight of the gases surrounding a planet (atmosphere).
Atmospheric Pressure on Mars - Less than 1% of Earth’s pressure
Atmospheric Regulator - The Hab atmospheric regulator ensures that the balance of gases (air) within the Hab are safe to breathe.
CAPCOM - Capsule communicator
Carbon DioxideCO₂ (one atom carbon, two oxygen) - A colourless, odourless gas produced by plants (at night), and animal respiration; decay of organic matter; burning of fossil fuels; volcanic and geyser activity. According to Mark Watney, 8% of CO₂ will ‘eventually kill you’.
Carbon Dioxide filters - Absorb carbon dioxide until saturated. They are not cleanable or reusable. Used on Rovers and Spacesuits. Mark Watney has enough for 1500 hours of CO₂ filtration.
Carbon Dioxide liquid - Formed by compressing and cooling carbon dioxide.
Centripetal gravity - Artificial gravity caused by centripetal force.
Deep Space Network - A scientific telecommunications system -
Deimos - Smaller of Mars’ two moons
Deneb - A very bright star
Dinitrogen (or molecular nitrogen) - Diatomic molecule ‘N₂’ (two nitrogen atoms). A colourless, odorless, gas.
Dioxygen (or molecular oxygen) - Oxygen gas - O₂ (diatomic molecule of two oxygen atoms). A colourless, odourless, gas. An oxidizer (a chemical that fuel requires in order to burn).
Dreideling - Action like a ‘Dreidel’, a Jewish spinning top. I think this refers to the wobble that a spinning top has just before it falls over.
EagleEye 3 Saturn probe - Fictitious but the ‘Cassini-Huygens’ Saturn probe certainly exists and was launched on 15 October 1997.
Earth atmosphere - 21% Oxygen, 78% nitrogen, other 1%
Earth distance to Mars - 34 to 250 million miles Average 140 million miles.
Earth distance to Moon - 238,000 miles
Earth distance to Sun - 93 million miles
Earth temperature - Average: 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.899 celsius)
EO - Earth orbit
EVA - Extravehicular Activity
GC - Ground Control
Hab - Habitation, canvas dwelling – 92 square metres
Hermes - Ares missions spacecraft, powered by ion engines – transport between Mars’ and Earth’s orbits.
Hohmann Transfer Window - Window of opportunity to utilise the Hohmann Transfer Orbit
Hydrazine - N₂H₄ (two atoms Nitrogen, four hydrogen). A colourless, volatile, toxic, flammable liquid; a derivative of ammonia. 292 litres found in MDV tanks. Each litre of hydrazine has enough hydrogen to make 2 litres of water when combined with oxygen.
Hydrogen - Chemical element ‘H’ (one hydrogen atom). A colourless, odorless, highly flammable gas. Hydrogen is a chemical element in Hydrazine.
IR camera - Infrared camera used for thermal imaging.
Iridium - A silver-white metal with catalyctic (increase rate of chemical reaction) properties
JPL - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Lander - A protective shell which, during landing, protects a Rover, for e.g. Pathfinder’s Sojourner Rover.
Launch Status Check - Terms used at beginning of American space mission.
Liquid Oxygen - LOx - Liquid O₂ (liquid dioxygen). Stored either end of Hab in high pressure tanks to feed space suits and Rovers.
Mars - 4th planet from the Sun. Mars atmosphere - Mostly Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) about 95%.
Mars distance from sun - 142 million miles
Mars temperature - Average: minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62.78 Celsius)
Mars water - Found as ice at polar ice cap.
MAV - Mars Ascent Vehicle
MAV fuel tank - Collects CO₂ (from Mars atmosphere) and converts hydrogen and CO₂ (by [Sabatier] chemical reaction) to fuel for MAV ascent to the spaceship, Hermes. MAV takes 20 hours to fill 10 litre fuel tank with CO₂ - ½ litre per hour. For every 1kg of hydrogen it makes 13 kgs of fuel. (Mark uses Hab oxygenator to remove oxygen from the CO₂, so he can use the oxygen and hydrogen to make H₂O (water).
Mawrth Vallis - A valley area of Mars carved out by major floods in the distant past.
MDV - Mars Descent Vehicle
MDV fuel tank - Holds hydrazine - N₂H₄. MDV makes its own fuel by way of an iridium catalyst in the engine (reaction chamber) which turns hydrazine into nitrogen and hydrogen. Mark finds 292 litres of unused hydrazine. One litre of hydrazine has enough hydrogen to make 2 litres of water when combined with oxygen.
MDV reactor - Separates hydrazine into hydrogen and nitrogen.
MGS - Mars Global Surveyor satellite
MMU - Manned Manoeuvering Unit
Molecule - Electrically neutral group of two or more atoms
Nitrogen - Chemical element ‘N’ (one nitrogen atom)
NSA - National Security Agency.
Oxygen - Chemical element, symbol ‘O’ (one oxygen atom)
Oxygenator - Removes oxygen from Hab’s CO₂.
Pathfinder - A space shuttle. It was launched December 4, 1996 and delivered the Sojourner Rover to Mars.
Phobos - Larger of Mars’ two moons.
Plutonium 238 - A radioactive isotope of plutonium, used in the RTG.
Polaris - A seemingly motionless bright star around which the northern sky revolves.
Pop Tent - Emergency rescue tent (inflate like air-bag) on Rovers
Precession - Precession is a change in the orientation of the rotational axis of a rotating body
Probe - Unmanned aircraft.
Rover - Transport vehicles on Ares 3 base, Acidalia Planitia, Mars. Same as the spacesuits, the Rovers use CO₂ filters rather than an oxygenator.
RTG - Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
SAFER Unit - Simplified Aid for EVA rescue, worn like a backpack.
SatCon - SatCon Technology Corp.
Schiaparelli crater - 3200 miles from Acidalia Planitia, and where the Ares 4 mission will land.
SETI - Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Sojourner Rover - Mars MicroRover delivered by Pathfinder space shuttle.
Sol - Solar Day (on Earth it's 23 hours 56 mins, on Mars it's 24 hours 37 mins as it takes longer to rotate 360 degrees on its axis.
Solar Cells - Used to convert sunlight into energy and store by way of hydrogen fuel cells.
Spectroscopy - “Spectroscopy is a scientific measurement technique. It measures light that is emitted, absorbed, or scattered by materials and can be used to study, identify and quantify those materials.”
Telemetry - is the highly automated communications process by which measurements are made and other data collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring.
Tetris - A tile-matching Russian puzzle game.
ULA - United Launch Alliance.
VASIMIR (4) - Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket.
Water - H₂0 (two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen). Mark wants 600 litres of water. He uses the CO2 from the MAV and the Oxygenator to create oxygen, and the MDV reactor to create hydrogen.
Water reclaimer - System in the Hab for pulling humidity (water) out of the Habs atmosphere.
Zirconia Electrolysis Cell - Used by the Oxygenator to remove carbon atoms from CO₂ and thus create oxygen.
Mark Watney a botanist-astronaut, lands on Mars as part of the six strong crew on the third manned mission to Mars, a thirty-day mission ahead. However, a vicious Martian sandstorm forced the mission to be abandoned on day 6, but a freak accident means he is left stranded on Mars. Alone and far from safety, it will take all Watney’s knowledge and ingenuity if he wants to survive on Mars, long after he was supposed to leave.
I disagree with the review below saying you can’t enjoy this if you aren’t interested in science – the writing makes the science part of the story, and this is the reason I rate this so highly. Weir manages to make the science interesting, even though there is a lot of science, it is not at the expense of the story. He explores Watney’s moods, his exploration of the local area and beyond, his ‘leisure-time’ and his desperate attempts to stay alive. Watney's gallows humour and unwillingness to look facts in the face (i.e. that he is going to die) and give up make you care about him.
I think one of the reasons this book is so popular, and certainly why I liked is it makes Mars feels so tantalizingly close. It is barely sci-fi – technically speaking most of the stuff in the book is feasible now – it's more political will holding back a manned mission to Mars (and cash, but it is politicians who allocate the cash). There are no warp drives, lasers, aliens (hope that's not a plot spoiler) or other staples of sci-fi – just a guy trying to get home after getting stranded.
I have just finished Artemis, Weir’s second novel (pretty good), and it has made me want to re-read The Martian, so my Kindle unread folder will remain undiminished for the next few days. If you haven’t read it, I cannot recommend highly enough.
The book and is carried on the witticisms and banter of main character Mark Watney, the titular Martian, and are jam-packed with pop culture references, science-y bits, and one-line zingers. And whilst I appreciated them, even found them amusing, this is also the story’s downfall. It sounds like the kind of dialogue I’d exchange with my equally nerdy friends on a Saturday night meet up – not Apollo 13 on Mars as it was billed to me by the hype. As a result it feels like it’s missing a sense of epic scale, and the stakes just don’t feel that high. At no point did I ever feel awed, or gripped, or really worried for Watney. Whenever something went wrong I simply wondered how he was going to fix it this time and what amusing commentary he’d provide. I never worried for a minute about his ultimate survival. Fun and entertaining? Yes. Compelling and thrilling? No.
The writing is competent, not outstanding. Apart from the complicated science-y bits, the language is kept simple, which is good for accessibility of the average reader, but for me I felt it lacked a little bit of creative flair – the language is very functional and to the point, there’s very little evocative imagery or creative description. The characters are largely functional too. Outside of Watney, everyone else basically boils down to their job at NASA or their role (e.g. Mark’s parents, Vogel’s wife, etc.). Watney himself is interchangeable – his vital stats could be swapped out for someone older/younger male/female American/non-American and there be no difference whatsoever to what happens in the plot.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. It’s amusing, it’s entertaining, it’s interesting – it’s just not the most amazing, earth-shattering book ever written, so don’t go into it expecting that. It reminds me a lot of an old classic actually – The Moon Is Hell by John Campbell – in its diary format and its functional problem-solving (minus the crime solving that also goes on in Campbell’s novel).