Study Guide

The Martian

By Andy Weir

The Martian Introduction

Tougher than duct tape, more frightening than the Martian wasteland, and funkier than disco, The Martian is one of the most exciting science fiction novels of recent years.

And we're not just saying that because we heart this page turner and its snarktastic protagonist. The Martian ain't just an awesome sci-fi spectacular... it's a sci-fi spectacular that topped the New York Times Bestseller List, got made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott, and is credited with giving the space program their biggest PR jolt since the Cold War.

Even its road to publication is exciting—and that's a sentence that's almost never, ever uttered. Author Andy Weir actually worked as a programmer while writing the novel in 2009, releasing the story one chapter at a time on his adorably old-school website. Although he was an unknown writer, word-of-mouth (and Reddit) eventually built to the point that the novel was officially published in 2014, instantly shooting to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.

That's a fairy tale-style success story—it'd be like turning a YouTube video into a big budget motion picture. (Fred: The Movie does not count.)

But here's why The Martian is so stupendously successful: the novel follows the tumultuous tale of Mark Watney, a humble botanist/astronaut left for dead on the surface on Mars. We watch as he fights for survival against an insanely harsh natural environment, creates crazy contraptions and scrapes by however possible. It's Castaway meets Robinson Crusoe... with a little bit of Lost in Space thrown in for good measure.

Things get a lot more complicated once NASA realizes that their boy is still alive. As public support for a rescue mission grows, Mark's bosses—and his former crewmates—are forced to make some tough, life-changing decisions about how to get their friend home.

The Martian is a stellar—or maybe even interstellar?—piece of hard science fiction, perfectly balancing complex technical details with a cast of bantering, intense (and yes, super nerdy) characters. Our man Watney is kind of like the love child of Amy Schumer and Jeff Goldblum circa Jurassic Park: he's equal parts hilarious wit and mad scientist genius. We definitely don't want to get stuck on Mars anytime soon... but if we had to we'd want Mark Watney as our buddy.

What is The Martian About and Why Should I Care?

Two words: outer space.

Full disclosure—it took us a while to winnow down the list of reasons why The Martian makes you care. This novel is a testament to humanity looking after its own. It's basically a love poem to the never-ending utility of duct tape. It's been made into a film by Ridley "I Made Alien, You Know You Love Me" Scott. It was a book that went from self-published to topping the New York Times Bestseller list... and isn't Fifty Shades of Grey. (We're not knocking Fifty Shades. That Beyoncé song from the soundtrack is still excellent.)

But The Martian is one of those rare books that makes people passionately interested in something bigger than themselves: space. And we're not just talking about the fact that this book makes people gaze at the night sky and think "Dang. Glad I'm not stranded up there."

This book relies on crazy amounts of real-deal science, and author Mark Weir basically sourced his scientific information from pros in the field. We're talking chemists, electrical engineers, and a reactor tech on a nuclear submarine. The result? Weir ended up getting praised by NASA itself for his accuracy (source).

Yep. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration itself gave an author/programmer a gold star for keeping it factual. That's just... intense. And the intensity of Weir's research paid off. When you read The Martian you get a solid idea of just how someone could survive on Mars, even if you're not exactly jumping at the chance to go spend two years on the red planet like protagonist Mark Watney.

But that's just the beginning of it. The Martian is credited with getting people revved up at the possibility of space exploration in a major way. It's even been compared to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for that very reason. But there are a couple of huge differences between 2001 and The Martian

  • Difference #1: 2001 came out in 1968, when people were already psyched about space. The Martian is credited with reviving interest. (If you've been living under a rock, space exploration has been a bit touch and go with the masses recently.)
  • Difference #2: 2001 got people excited because it was about theoretical, whoa-man-space-is-big issues. The Martian is getting people excited because it's about hard math, hard science, and the mind-blowing reality of space exploration.

The Washington Post claims that The Martian may have saved NASA and the entire space program. Basically, The Martian might be partially responsible for getting the first human to walk on the red planet.

And that is the most insanely brain-shattering, can't-even-conceive-of-it, are-you-kidding-us, eye-popping reason to read a book that us puny Earthlings can think of.

The Martian Resources

Websites

Galactanet: The Creative Works of Andy Weir
This is where Weir originally released The Martian in serialized form. You can find his other work here as well.

A Map of The Martian
Want to follow Watney's journey across Mars with frightening accuracy? Look no further than this awesome interactive map that tracks his progress across the red planet.

Movie or TV Productions

The Martian (2015)
The film adaptation of The Martian has some serious heavy-hitters attached, including director Ridley Scott and critically-acclaimed actors like Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, and Donald Glover.

Articles and Interviews

How Science Made Me a Writer
In this piece, Weir describes his unusual path to becoming a novelist and how his lifelong passion for science actually makes his writing better.

Andy Weir's Journey from Self-Publishing to Hollywood
This interview, from Entertainment Weekly, focuses on the insane story of The Martian's rise from free online fiction to a New York Times bestseller.

An Interview with Andy Weir
This interview with science fiction periodical Amazing Stories focuses on the sci-fi aspects of The Martian.

Video

Andy Weir Talks at Google
This presentation gets pretty in-depth into the science of The Martian, so depending on your personal style, it'll either be the greatest or most confusing thing you've watched all week.

Andy Weir on Triangulation
In this video, Weir is interviewed for online talk show Triangulation. As you might've guessed, this one also spends a lot of time investigating the technical details of The Martian.

Audio

Spoilercast: The Martian
In this podcast—hosted by Jamie and Adam of Mythbusters—we learn a ton of information about the real-life feasibility of The Martian.

Science Friday on The Martian
Popular podcast Science Friday has made a name for itself by making complex science accessible to even the most unlearned listener. Their take on The Martian is no exception.

Images

Mars
There she is! Or is it a he? We're stumped!

Mark Watney on Duct Tape
After reading The Martian, we have built a shrine to duct tape in our spare closet. We're quite impressionable, tbh.