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.

Published by Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *