Cover image of "The Martian," a hard science fiction novel

If you think you’ve got trouble, meet Mark Watney. It’s sometime in the 2030s or 2040s. Mark is an American astronaut, the seventeenth person to set foot on Mars. Unfortunately for him, he’s been left behind for dead by his five crew mates once a huge sandstorm aborted their mission after just six days on the planet. Then everything starts to go wrong.

Don’t expect to see bug-eyed Martian monsters or ethereal intelligences that invade Mark’s mind and guide his destiny. Unlike the overwhelming majority of sf that’s published every year, which is dominated by fantasy rather than by science, this is hard science fiction. From beginning to end, this tale is based on facts and technology that are already well known. And a truly engaging tale it is, with suspense to match the most artful thriller.

This is hard science fiction that’s very, very funny

Such a geeky book as The Martian, which is full of mathematical calculations and botanical reasoning, could easily be monumentally boring. It’s not. It’s not just suspenseful — it’s very, very funny. Mark’s “journal” of his time on Mars is irreverent. He’s a wiseass. He’s also one of the most resourceful human beings you could possibly imagine. His cleverness is peerless.

The Martian by Andy Weir (2011) 384 pages ★★★★☆

The Martian is chock full of engineering wisdom: “Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.” and “They say no plan survives first contact with implementation. I’d have to agree.”

The book’s first-time author, Andy Weir, a computer scientist and son of a particle physicist, has thoroughly researched all the fields relevant to an astronaut’s experience on the surface of Mars, and he does a credible enough job in portraying Mark Watney. There are also the makings of believable personalities in some of the minor characters, but they fall apart at times as Mark’s irreverence becomes suspiciously contagious.

The Martian is one of those wonders of contemporary publishing. It first saw the light of day through self-publishing in 2011. Unable to interest agents or publishers, Weir released the novel for 99 cents in a Kindle edition. When he’d sold 35,000 copies in three months, pushing the book to the top of Amazon’s science fiction category, Crown Publishing bought the rights to reissue the title last year. It has spent a lot of time on the New York Times bestseller list since then.

If you like science fiction, and especially if you love hard science fiction, the sort of story that’s grounded in science, you’ll love The Martian.

For further reading

For the record, I’ve reviewed Andy Weir’s 2021 novel, Project Hail Mary (The new Andy Weir novel celebrates engineering—again). As you’ll see, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much.

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