Home Opinion Life on Mars

Life on Mars


Nicole Tracy

Nicole Tracy

Literary Columnist

NASA astronaut Mark Watney is having a bad day. He manages to survive an impaling by a antenna from a communications system during a fierce dust storm, only to be thought dead by his crew and left behind.
As if that’s not bad enough in itself, he’s stuck on Mars. A planet that does not sustain life. While it seems like this novel should end within about 20 pages, The Martian by Mark Weir, is an amazing story of one man’s survival amid very unsurvivable odds.
The progression of the story is compelling, which explains why a first effort by a new novelist is being adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon, set to be released October 2. Director Ridley Scott has only produced three other science fiction films, and Blade Runner, Alien, and Promethius are seminal films of the genre.
The story alternates between Watney’s daily logs, which is his side of the story, explaining what all he had done that day, and the real time story of mission at NASA to recover him once it is discovered that he is in fact alive and was left behind.
Watney, a botanist and engineering specialist, manages to show a true survival instinct throughout the story, creating a garden in his habitat from sterile Martian dirt to grow potatoes for food, completely retrofitting a Mars rover to allow him to travel long distances, and chemically converting hydrazine, which is a rocket fuel, into its basic chemical components to ensure he can make enough water.
One of the more amusing parts of the story is Watney’s search for entertainment. He discovers a data stick that his Commander had left behind in the rush to leave, that much to his horror, only contains 1970’s era TV shows and disco music. He spends a lot of time making fun of these and her preference for them in his daily logs. He also is constantly asking NASA to send him something other than disco to listen to. By the end, he almost seems to be accepting of disco, even declaring “Stayin’ Alive” to be his theme song for the whole mission.
Watney manages to survive over a year and a half until the chance to be rescued finally arrives. He manages to be rescued, and is immediately ordered by the crew’s doctor to take a shower. The story ends on Watney’s thoughts that it’s good to be going home to Earth.
The Martian is author Mark Weir’s first novel. He managed to create a world that is full of optimism, the human spirit, and lots of actual scientific know how packed very well into a modern science-fiction story.
The novel is a enjoyable read, but can tend to be a little on the long winded side at times. Heavy on details, there are a few points in the story where it feels like one has been reading for a while, only to discover about 10 pages have actually been read. This doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the novel any. This one is best enjoyed when one actually has some time to sit down and get lost in the story.
Quite possibly, the most entertaining part of the story is Watney. He’s only got himself and a log to talk to, at first, and he has quite the offbeat sense of humor. He seems to have fun flaunting NASA’s inability to stop him from doing things the way he thinks it should be done at times, and generally just seems to be someone, that if you knew in real life, would be one of those people you would just enjoy being around. He was a completely realistic and believable character.
The novel might be classified as science fiction, but honestly, it encompasses so many genres, it is hard to relegate it to just one. There’s drama, humor, and action as well as the expected science fiction. This story is one that shouldn’t be missed.

In addition to serving as an associate librarian with the Howard County Library, Nicole Tracy has years of experience in literary fields. She writes an exclusive weekly column for The Nashville News.