By Matt Johnson
What can I say about The Martian other than it is a modern epic of man versus nature that takes place on a distant, hostile world on the other side of the solar system? Well, drawing from the personality and colorful language of the main character, The Martian himself, Mark Watney, “A fucking lot!” But like Mark Watney, and the time and constraints that he faces on Mars during his struggle for survival, I face time and constraints in sharing my opinion with you.
The book and characters that exist within this world, created by author and software engineer Andy Weir, have a bit of an edge to them. I suppose this makes sense considering the fact that a decision or an event can mean the difference between life and certain death. So expressing their feelings and circumstances with honesty and colorful metaphors is to be expected.
The book makes no bones about this reality. Life and death is the thesis right from beginning. But what sets this story apart is the personality of the characters and thus the book. The story harkens back to an America that used to exist. Indeed, this previous America was not without its faults, but like Mars, survival and existence took the character of ruggedness; that is, audaciousness, grit, fortitude, and the will to live and survive. Invoking Winston Churchill, it proposes an “endeavor to persevere” type of attitude.
The book pushes the boundaries of science fiction; and make no mistake, it is both science and fiction. It also pushes the boundaries of what makes science fiction so appealing and enduring. No, there are no warp-drives, beaming technologies, or holodecks. Mark Watney’s existence is constricted, miserable, and uncertain. He is at most times, centimeters from certain death in that barren wasteland called Mars.
But as a trained botanist and mechanical engineer with a smartass, positive personality, Mark Watney and his science fiction story provide a speculative narrative of what it would be like for you to be stranded on a desolate planet millions of miles from Earth and civilization; and what it would take to survive with nothing but your wits and with what’s in front of you.
If you are missing science fiction in your life or fictional characters that you will want to root for, then The Martian is your next science fiction story. If you’re looking for some science fiction that involves real science and the real decisions and constraints that scientists and engineers must deal with and make work, or die trying, then The Martian is for you.
I’m positive you could find something wrong with this story; I’m positive you could find something wrong with the math, science, or engineering that Mark Watney uses or applies throughout the story; I’m positive if you analyzed the book enough times, you could find some sort of continuity error; and I’m positive what Mark Watney would then say about you, “Dick!”
This will make sense once you finish the book, but where much of modern science fiction is not much different from the packed bags of urine and manure that Mark Watney recycles for drinking water and growing potatoes, The Martian is the catastrophic problems and almost certain death that Mark Watney solves with his wits, charming personality, botany skills, and ingenious engineering. It’s the Right Stuff!
Author’s notes and your way to participate:
Remember, feedback is appreciated and encouraged. There are no rules yet other than I may give you the Mark Watney treatment if you get to mouthy. You are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. And I’m positive you will find these similar articles of interest as well: Book Review: Bad Astronomy and Go Tell It to the Mathematicians.