Book: The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir is the best book I’ve read in a while. I consumed it in the last 24 hours. But first, here’s what I woke up to this morning.


No – I’m not on Mars. But Mark Watney was. And while Mars is a lot more desolate than Homer, Alaska, I disconnected from the human race several times right in the middle of a work week because of the amazingness of this book. At 2am last night, I said out loud to my wife Amy, who was fast asleep, “I’m going to be tired tomorrow afternoon.” And, as I crawled into bed after a stretch of 7am to 2pm video conferences, I said “Wow, I’m tired, but I’m not nearly as fucked as Mark Watney is right now.”

The story is a simple one. A mission on Mars goes badly in the sixth day of 31, the six person crew aborts quickly, but during the abort, one person (Mark) gets separated, is lost, and left for dead. Except he’s not. After he regains consciousness, he realizes he’s been abandoned on Mars. The good news is that all the stuff from their mission, including what will become the very famous HAB, two Rovers, and all their supplies and equipment, is still there. The bad news is that Mark is alone on Mars with no communication back to Earth since all the comm gear was in the spacecraft that was used for the abort.

Day by day, piece by piece, hack by hack, Mark survives. His brain is amazing – he’s a classical botany / electrician / engineer hacker. Well – I guess there’s no such thing, but that’s the fun of it. He’s awesomely descriptive, has a wicked sense of humor, and incredible survival instinct. And his creativity, in the endless near-death experiences he finds himself in, is awe-inspiring.

NASA and the people of Earth eventually figure out he’s alive. He figures out how to communicate with them. As he continues to extend his life expectancy, a plan to rescue him comes together. It blows up on the launch pad. Another plan emerges. Communication is lost. A series of parallel epic journeys begin. Tension, already high, mounts. And Mark continues to almost die, but then figure out a way not to.

What a wonderful book. I can only imagine how badly Mark smelled at the end of it.

  • Pete_0

    Concur wholeheartedly! It ought to be taught in middle school science-it’s a phenomenal example of applied science in action.

    Surprised you didn’t mention the backstory (which I’ve read but not verified): also a great example of the new paradigm, initially self-published, then picked up by a “major” house, and now it’s way to the big screen (just without Tom Cruise please!)

    • Please no Tom Cruise. It’ll be a great movie.

  • yazinsai

    LOL @ “I can only imagine how badly Mark smelled at the end of it”

    That’s a real part of adventures that not many people delve into 🙂

    • As Amy will tell you, we are very aware of how badly I smell after a day of my typical adventures.

  • Jon Kelly

    Brad – I just read the Martian on my off-the-grid vacation a few weeks ago. I loved it, too. My company does a monthly book club and we chose this as our next book. I called Mark’s story the “ultimate lean startup” – lots of testing and iteration, but with very little room for waste.

    • Yup – great – I will use this. Perfect example of Lean Startup. In this case, Life or Death Lean Startup.

  • Ali

    Ah, the feeling after you finish a great work of fiction, you walk out of the door to the street and are surprised that people are not all talking about it, as if you are walking in a parallel universe.

    • Especially when you are in Homer, Alaska!

  • williamhertling

    I loved The Martain as well and devoured it in a very short time.

    Deep domain-specific knowledge can make for an entrancing story. I might not know all the details of orbital mechanics and spaceship and habitat design, but it’s clear that Andy Weir does. It gives the story the detail that really makes it come to life.

    • Well said. I found that I was doing the math along with him. Some of it I could figure out, some of it was learning, and some required a quick Wikipedia look up. I loved when he switched to ninja units.

      • williamhertling

        If you want to lose a few days of your life but get a much better feel for orbital mechanics, play Kerbal Space Program. You build spaceships and fly missions to moons and planets, all with realistic physics and ship capabilities.

        I had one astronaut stranded on the moon, and I sent a ship with lunar rover to rescue him, but broke the rover. So I sent a third ship, but had to make a landing without any light and botched it. Space is hard.

        • You are mean. I see myself staying up all night tonight with this.

  • rick gregory

    Yeah I loved this book. What makes it for me is Marks’ humor. Just dry descriptions of the events would have been boring, but Mark comes alive as a person not just a narrator.

  • Ken Greenwood

    Great book! Listened via Audible during commute time…could not wait to get back in the car…made the commute fly by. I can only hope to see more action-packed stories from Andy.

  • aliciadirago

    Oh, I loved this book. Now I want to reread it. When I watched Gravity a few months ago I kept thinking that The Martian was such a smarter and more exciting take on the trouble in space concept. Looking forward to the movie.

  • davidcowan

    Yes, great story, very fun to read, but I was consistently bothered that the writing itself is mediocre. Mark reacts to every development with either “Yay!” or “Shit”. Not a wide range of emotional expression.

    • Those would be two of my three favorite expressions if I was stuck on Mars alone. My third one would be “fuck” although he weaves that in well.

  • tgodin

    Loved the book. Modestly surprised that it ended as abruptly as it did, but overall a great read. Hope to get my teen sons to read it – engineers and scientists as heroes always a nice message to reinforce.

  • Joseph Burros

    Read this book on your recommendation. It was a nice break from the constant pace of startup work. Thanks! The ending was great, the way he used his space suite to **** himself ******. (I’m not going to give it away.)