The Martian: A Modern Classic


This week­end, my body has been clean­ing the house, doing some Kindle admin, mow­ing the lawn, and eat­ing. My mind, how­ever, has been on Mars, thanks to the audiobook The Martian by Andy Weir.

I’m not going to tease you: This is the best hard sci­ence fic­tion book I’ve read in years, pos­sibly since Dune. Bear in mind that:

  • I don’t keep up with cur­rent fash­ions in sci­ence fic­tion, so maybe there are bet­ter hard sci­ence fic­tion volumes out there

  • I don’t like polit­ic­ally earn­est (or even insin­cere) sci­ence fic­tion

  • I may not even know what hard sci­ence fic­tion is, giv­en that I’ve included Dune as an example

  • This book isn’t a door­stop with eighty char­ac­ters, sub­plots, and a gloss­ary of swear­words used on the plan­et Ah’hrrhr!g. It’s as long as it needs to be and that’s that.

The Martian begins with astro­naut Mark Watney regain­ing con­scious­ness on the sur­face of Mars hav­ing been left for dead by his crew­mates. What fol­lows is a grip­ping nov­el that reads like Apollo 13 on an epic scale: to make it, Mark has only his wits, his sci­entif­ic train­ing as a bot­an­ist and an engin­eer, and re-runs of 1970s TV shows. Meanwhile, NASA is work­ing around the clock to help him work out ingeni­ous solu­tions to life-threat­en­ing prob­lem after life-threat­en­ing prob­lem.

Here are some things that occurred to me as I searched for more chores this week­end in order to pro­long my listen­ing time:

  • If you’re going to write about space, know about space.

    • Get shit right. If you wrote a nov­el about foot­ball, you’d be embar­rassed if you didn’t know the off­side rule.
  • Just because the set­ting is highly tech­nic­al, that doesn’t mean your char­ac­ters can’t be well-roun­ded, human, and funny.

  • If you’re not inter­ested in pub­lish­ing tra­di­tion­ally, go ahead and do it any­way.

As far as I’m aware, Andy Weir wrote this book as a free seri­al. That’s when he star­ted to pick up read­ers. The ori­gin­al draft he uploaded to the Kindle had plenty of typos, but by doing his home­work and writ­ing well, Mark accrued so much good will that his rat­ings were sky high.

Now, the nov­el has been picked up by a major pub­lish­er. Andy Weir deserves it. He didn’t set out to make money, but I hope he does, because I’ve paid a lot more over the years for sci­ence fic­tion that is well below the bar set by The Martian. You know what? I’ve just pre-ordered a phys­ic­al copy for £12.99. It’ll be released in early February and it’ll be going onto my shelf.

In case you didn’t between the lines, I liked this book very much. Here’s my Amazon review:

This book is, quite simply, one of the most engross­ing reads I’ve come across for a long time. It’s metic­u­lously researched, funny, mov­ing, and just about the pin­nacle of hard SF.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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