Books of 2015, #3: The Martian, by Andy Weir

I guess that, if we’re going to have categories, I have to tag this as SF, but it’s the closest-to-now and absolutely most-plausible SF I think I’ve ever seen, and not in the “20 minutes into the future” sense that you sometimes got with cyberpunk. The Martian is basically set in the present day, with only our space program’s abilities slightly ramped up.

Astronaut Mark Watney is part of a Mars expedition that works more or less like you’d expect: a long trip there followed by a fairly short sojourn on the surface doing experiments and gathering samples. When a sandstorm kicks up and threatens the stability of their lander — i.e., their only way back to orbit and their ride home — they must abort, but poor Mark is injured on the run to the craft. Worse, the flying debris that knocks him out also destroyed his suit’s telemetry equipment, so all his colleagues think he’s dead. Safe on the lander, and thinking him lost, they leave.

And then Mark wakes up, alone and marooned, and with no way to communicate with Earth or his colleagues.

What follows is a terrific yarn equal parts accessible, scientifically valid problem solving and “Robinson Crusoe”, minus the charming natives. Essentially everything Mark does is plausible, which makes the story all the more thrilling and fun. It should therefore come as no surprise that it’s already been optioned; it’ll be adapted by Drew Goddard (who directed The Cabin in the Woods from a Whedon script) and helmed by Ridley Scott, with Matt Damon attached as Watney.

Scott’s output lately has been weak, but the source material here is so strong my hope is he’s able to find his feet again. The emphasis here on real approaches to problem solving prompted me to describe The Martian to a friend as “like Gravity, but good;” on film, that could become literally true.

Highly recommended.

One thought on “Books of 2015, #3: The Martian, by Andy Weir

  1. This was one of Sally’s favorites of the year (I haven’t read it yet), and a Park Road Books bestseller. One bookstore in my territory (Greenville, SC of all places) started a “trust fall” program–the buyer/owner knew people wouldn’t buy it on the basis of the cover, the theme, or the genre, so she said, look, pre-order this, and if you aren’t wowed, we’ll give you your money back, no questions asked. At last count, she’d sold over a hundred (and this is a pretty tiny store) and had three people ask for refunds.

    I’ll pick it up and read it one of these days–meanwhile, read you some Ron Rash, or “Descent” by Tim Johnston, which is one of the best novels I’ve read in years (did come from a Workman imprint). Reading a very impressive book now by Austin Grossman (whose debut “Soon I Will Be Invincible” is well worth your time, if you haven’t already read it) which is told in the voice of Richard Nixon and seems to be about his work in keeping extra-dimensional horrors at bay. Gotta love the Lovecraftian!