The Martian by Andy Weir
I have a terrible habit of discovering great books late through film. To run through a few of my favourite books that I discovered because of a film or TV show, they are, in no order other than what came to mind:
- Starship Troopers. Amazing Paul Verhoeven film, far better Robert A Heinlein book about communism and how women are better drivers.
- The Spy Who Came in From The Cold. For my money, Richard Burton's greatest performance is in the 1965 adaptation of John le Carre's book that got him burned. The book, which I've read three or four times still has me guessing when they get to the wall with George Smiley calling to them. Incredible.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Blade Runner is a masterpiece, one of the finest films ever made. Philip K Dick's book is deeper and rougher. The second police station scene, which didn't make it into the film is one of the great unnerving scenes committed to paper.
- The Sharpe Series. Sean Bean is reasonable for picking up a book and Bernard Cornwell responsible for me never putting them down again.
So, it is through another film I discover something I wish I'd picked up when it was released. Ridley Scott's new film, due in November, is an adaptation of Andy Weir's The Martian. It looks really good, even if the cast cross over with Interstellar's big "surprise" reveal is unfortunate. I'll embed the trailer at the bottom, but it's the book were are going to chat about here. Well, maybe, gush. I read it in one sitting.
The Martian is set in the near future and closely mirrors the mood of the Apollo missions. The Apollo program captured the public imagination, until by Apollo 13, going to the moon was, well, boring. So is the case with the Ares program. Ares 1 returned to tickertape and parades, Ares 2 to handshakes and Ares 3 is trundling off to Mars as routine. This is the first clever device Weir uses, basing the framework around Apollo 13, we get an idea of how everything works and what to think we know will happen. Needless to say, Ares 3 doesn't go to plan. After Ares 3 arrives, and only six days into the 31 day mission on Mars itself, a storm hits the base camp and NASA orders an abort. During the escape, Astronaut Mark Watney is hit by the communications dish ripped off of the habitat and, with his life signs showing as dead, he is left behind by his crew. Watney survives, of course, and has to figure out a way to stay alive until the next Mars mission, Ares 4, arrives in four years.
When I first heard about this book a while back, I heard it described as "Hard Science Fiction". Now if there is a statement to ever put you off a book, it is that. The Martian is very hard science fiction, but with three saving graces. 1, The Apollo 13 framework. 2, The generous nods to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and 3, Mark Watney. In Watney, Weir has created a great character. The book follows Watney's log entries, written in the first person, and what is going on back on Earth and Hermes, the spaceship, in the third person. And it is Watney's blunt honesty to his situation and knowledge that he is a geek, that makes him so engaging and very funny. The humour in the book is mostly based around our Martian, as he tries to extend his lifespan on a dead planet and get talking to Earth. All the hard science is tempered by the fact our hero knows that "hard science" is not terribly cool, but he may just be the man to make it cool. Watney is a gem. The book spends most of its opening with Watney before slowly spending more and more time on Earth and onboard Hermes, where the crew struggle with leaving their friend behind. Looking at the same problem from three aspects helps move the story along and shows the stresses and strains upon all involved. The Apollo 13 framing, means you have a good idea how NASA works and how they are working to get Watney home. If you're a bit of a space nut, have read or seen The Right Stuff or Apollo 13, there is more than enough to keep you going. If you've not, it doesn't matter a jot, because you'll find yourself enjoying being stranded with Watney and wishing you could help with the digging.
I'd started the book in the morning, having been layed up at home, by the evening, my heart was racing with excitement and I was sat up in bed as the story plays out. It has been ages since I've devoured a book as I have The Martian. It is a wonderful balancing act between action, science and humour. Please grab a copy for your summer hols, you will not regret it one jot. If Ridley Scott pulls this off, he'll have made a great film and, despite the Interstellar link, Matt Damon is perfect casting for Watney. Andy Weir has written a stunning debut and created a wonderful hero. If Sir Ridley has cut the Aquaman joke, I'm asking for my money back.
The Martian by Andy Weir is available now.
The Martian rehashed by Sir Ridley and Matt Damon, is out in November.