Story by Trey Rice

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Photo by Robert Sawyer

What would you do if you were stranded somewhere with limited food, water, and air? Would you give up or would you fight to survive with everything you’ve got?

Luckily for Mark Watney, he chooses the latter. Mark Watney is an engineer and botanist for Ares 3, a prestigious NASA program created to put astronauts on Mars.

The Martian is a science fiction novel by Andy Weir. The Martian, originally self-published as an electronic book in 2011, was later re-released on Feb. 11, 2014 after Weir sold the rights to Crown Publishing. It was placed at number 12 on the New York Times bestseller list at the time of it’s re-release.

It starts just after Watney and his team’s base on Mars has been hit by a massive sandstorm, forcing them to evacuate. Watney is unfortunately left stranded while his team believes that he died on the surface. Watney must use his knowledge of botany and engineering to expand the time he has left to live.

Meanwhile on earth, NASA is in disarray following the recent tragedy. That is until they discover that Watney just might be alive. From there on, it’s a race against time to mount a rescue and save the lone astronaut.

Weir does a good job of putting scientific terms and knowledge into layman’s terms. If not for this, someone reading this novel who’s unfamiliar to botany, chemistry, engineering or “techno-babble” would have a hard time figuring out what’s going on.

The narrative structure is done from two points of view. Anything taking place on Mars is told through Watney’s daily logs. In this way, everything being told to the reader has already happened. It also gives good insight into Watney’s humorous personality. Anything taking place on Earth is told in third-person narration.

The novel focuses heavily on the theme of isolation. Watney has to deal with living in a small amount of space without any human contact for a prolonged amount of time. As the novel progresses, the reader can see that Watney gradually starts to feel more and more claustrophobic.

Watney is very well characterized. He’s smart, funny and maintains a mostly optimistic attitude but he also has his limits. There’s even a running gag that the only entertainment he has is disco music (which he hates), seventies shows (which he mercilessly critiques), and mystery novels. His log entries are also sometimes entertaining. One minute he’s writing about managing supplies and the next he’s wondering how his favorite baseball team is doing or asking why Aquaman can talk to whales.

While Watney is well characterized, most of the other characters are not. His crew are developed much in the same way Watney is, which is good, but most of the NASA staff are pretty bland. It’s easy to be reading about what’s happening back on Earth and just forget who some of the characters are. The only thing we know about these characters is their jobs. It’s all the reader sees them do. The reader never sees who they really are or what they’re really like.

With the exception of those side characters,  The Martian is a joy to read. Weir’s use of tension is worthy of praise and his use of occasional humor is a treat. The Martian is an amazing Robinsonade, a story of survival against all possible odds and how it affects our humanity.