The Martian is Well Worth the Read


Lucy Arnold

Editor in Chief, Lucy Arnold, reviews the incredible story of The Martian by Andy Weir.

Lucy Arnold, Editor in Chief

Imagine that you are stranded on a barren, desolate wasteland of a planet. The dustlike soil cannot support plantlife; the terrain is rocky, unpredictable, and mottled with giant craters;   temperatures are bone-chillingly cold; and frequent dust storms whip across the landscape, wreaking havoc. Everyone on earth is unaware that you are struggling to survive in such a hopeless and hostile environment because NASA, the media, and your mission crewmates all believe you to be dead. You are utterly alone with close to zero chance of rescue.

What would you do?

Most people would give up. They would dwell on the 99 percent chance that no help will come and spiral into despondency and depression, perhaps even ending their own lives so that the suffering is not prolonged.

It is one of the most thrilling reads that I have encountered in a long time.”

— Lucy Arnold

Botanist, mechanical engineer, astronaut, and self-proclaimed dork Mark Watney is not like most people. When faced with the disastrously grim scenario outlined above, he employs all of his creativity, ingenuity, determination, and wit to survive on Mars and to contact Earth for help. The events that follow are chronicled in Andy Weir’s The Martian, a gripping page-turner that has been adapted into a highly anticipated film.

Whether you plan to see The Martian in theaters or not, I highly recommend that you give the book a try. It is one of the most thrilling reads that I have encountered in a long time, but it is also a stirring testament to the power of the individual will to survive and to the great lengths that people take to help others.

The book’s narrative sequence switches between Watney’s first-person accounts of his experiences and third person descriptions of events surrounding his rescue. Watney’s narration is all part of a log that he continues to compile so that people on earth will have record of his times on Mars after he dies. The tone of the log becomes increasingly optimistic as Watney realizes that he might be rescued afterall.

But how does a person get stranded on Mars in the first place? The Martian takes place some time in the future, when NASA and other organizations have the funding and technology necessary to launch ridiculously expensive space exploration projects. Watney is the fifth member of the six-person crew of Ares 3, the third installment of a six-mission project that seeks to learn more about Mars.

Six sols (Martian days) into the 31 sol mission, a severe dust storm comes to the Ares 3 mission site and forces Watney’s crew to end the mission early. The six crew members get into their space suits and struggle their way toward the Mars Ascension Vehicle (MAV), the relatively fragile device that is the crew’s only way back to the Hermes, the ship back to Earth. On the way to the MAV, Watney is seemingly impaled by a pole, and the impact carries him far enough from his crewmates that they cannot find him. Misleading data readings from his space suit (accessed from the MAV) convince them that he is dead, so Watney’s five colleagues ascend to Hermes and to space without him.  

The Martian is overall an outstanding read.”

— Lucy Arnold

Watney awakens in the middle of the dry, lifeless Martian desert. He finds that he is completely alone on a very large, scarcely-explored, and unforgiving planet. He has enough food to last for at least several months, but not for the four or more years that will pass before Ares 4 and potential rescue come to Mars. His only hope of communicating with Earth is to make dramatic overland journeys to former and future mission sites stocked with communications equipment. He must also maintain the Hab, a large shelter with conditions preserved specially for human life.

Against remarkable odds, Watney’s quest for survival begins. Readers are taken on a riveting adventure as Watney manages to grow food, communicate with Earth, travel many kilometers of rough Martian terrain, and endure numerous hardships and threats to his life. Watney’s journey is all the more enjoyable because he faces every challenge with great humor, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. His experiences are even slightly educational because the book demonstrates a level of scientific accuracy that is often absent from science fiction novels.

While Watney works to survive, his crewmates, NASA, the media, and even the space programs of foreign countries launch massive efforts to bring him home once they realize that he is alive and stranded on Mars. People from all different backgrounds come together to figure out how to keep the lone astronaut alive and how to rescue him. In the end, Watney’s crewmates make the life-threatening decision to execute the rescue efforts themselves. All of this contributes to a climax that had me on the edge of my seat.

The adventure will thrill you, and you just might gain some hope for humanity in the process.”

— Lucy Arnold

Though all of the characters involved in the rescue effort are very dedicated to saving Watney, they occasionally touch on the following question: why go to such great, expensive, and dangerous lengths to save a single life? Watney answers this question at the end of the book, when his fate is certain. “Every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out…If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception” (page 369).

The Martian is overall an outstanding read. It demonstrates the perfect balance of humor, excitement, and humanity to be both touching and highly entertaining. Especially as the plotline progressed, I could not put the book down until I learned Watney’s fate. If you need something to read, you should grab this book and spend some time on Mars with Mark Watney. The adventure will thrill you, and you just might gain some hope for humanity in the process.