The Martian is a hugely entertaining novel about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars and has to rely mostly on his own ingenuity to survive and eventually get rescued. It’s funny and hopeful and packed with technical whiz bangery that would put MacGyver to shame.
I read The Martian as part of the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge. May’s assignment was to read a science fiction novel. Science Fiction is not my genre at all, but it’s my husband’s favorite movie genre. In fact, every time he sits with me he turns the TV to the SyFy channel where, inevitably, Prometheus is playing. It’s like they don’t have any other movies to play. And it’s awful. It’s part of the Alien series so it has the obligatory baby alien bursting out of a woman’s abdomen, with lots of slime and screaming. No thanks.
That’s the kind of science fiction I was trying to avoid, and with The Martian I succeeded. In fact, I would categorize The Martian as “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.” No dark, dystopian story lines, no apocalyptic zombie-producing viruses, and no aliens – the titular Martian is a human being. OK, I know I’m over-simplifying the genre but you have to admit a lot of sci fi is pretty grim.
The story takes place in the not too distant future. NASA has figured out how to send 6-person teams to Mars for 31 days at a time. On the third such excursion, the team has to abort the mission after six days due to a huge sand storm. During the resulting chaos, they think one of their teammates, Mark Watney, is killed. They don’t have time to recover the body. By a fluke, Mark survives, but now he’s alone on Mars with no way to communicate with anyone. Luckily, as an engineer and botanist, Mark has a very particular set of skills that just might see him through.
What follows is a modern version of a castaway story. Mark figures out how to survive in very creative (and technical) ways. He figures out how to grow potatoes, how to communicate with NASA and how to make water, among many other things. We learn all this from a log he keeps, which is often funny and always positive. The only thing he complains about is that he’s stuck with disco and 70’s sitcoms for entertainment.
Unfortunately, it takes a really long time to get to Mars and Mark’s food supply may run out before anyone can rescue him. NASA and Mark’s crew scramble to figure out a solution while the whole world watches with fascination. There are setbacks along the way, but no one ever gives up.
I really liked the messages in The Martian. It’s about perseverance in the face of significant adversity. It’s about the will to live and the value of human life. It’s about what can happen when people come together to focus on a common goal. I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. I also liked that all the heroes in this story wielded their scientific knowledge like finely honed weapons. Yay nerds!
Next, I’m going to watch the movie. My husband will be pleased!
Thanks for the recommendation, Deborah!
Have you read The Martian? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or maybe you read a different science fiction book this month? Tell me all about it.
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