Book of the Month: The Martian

I’m a big fan of science fiction stories in books, movies and video games. A lot of them however are much stronger on the fiction than on the science part. So I’m really happy if once in awhile I find a story which combines science with a good plot. When a friend told me about Andy Weir‘s novel The Martian it sounded like it might be able to deliver both.

The main protagonist of the The Martian is the NASA astronaut Mark Watney. When the crew of the third manned mission to Mars has to make an emergency liftoff, before a massive sandstorm destroys their spaceship, Mark is presumed dead and left behind on the surface of the planet. He survives the storm but is now faced with the massive challenge of survival. As the expedition’s artificial habitat and all their supplies remained on the planet Mark is safe for now. But even if none of the technology that keeps him alive fails he will eventually starve. Mark can also not contact NASA to let them know that he is alive because the storm destroyed all his means of communication. He can only rely on himself to secure his rescue.

The Martian is indeed a proper science novel. Space travel to Mars doesn’t rely on fantastic inventions like a warp drive. It relies on the appropriate and horribly expensive combination of existing space travel technology. If humanity would strive to send astronauts to Mars in the near future it would probably work similar to what is described in the book. The description of the planet Mars itself is also very accurate. There are no aliens and no mysterious ruins. It is just a gigantic barren red desert full of sand and rocks. But the harsh environment with little atmosphere, no water and extremely low temperatures is enough of a challenge anyway. The main character, Mark Watney, is not the typical hero. He is an engineer and scientist, the kind of geek you would expect on a scientific expedition. But these abilities combined with his unbreakable optimism might actually save him.

Andy Weir expertly combines science, technology and human aspects into a gripping tale. You can tell that he has read classic masterworks of science fiction like the stories written by Isaac Asimov. Without any space battles, aliens or fantastic worlds the book is so exciting that I just couldn’t put it away. If you enjoy science fiction novels this book is an absolute must read.