Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books-of-the-year-2014, science-fiction, science, travel, fiction

I’m pretty much fucked.
Ok, show of hands. How many of you have uttered these exact words? (or words to that effect). Not everyone? I see we have some liars out there. How many have said them at least twice? Three times? Four? Those with hands still up, you probably need to make some adjustments to your approach, find a safer line of work, hobbies that do not entail long drops, stop trying the weekly specials at McBlowfish, or seek out people to date who are into less extreme…um…sports. These are the opening words of The Martian. Astronaut Mark Watney is definitely more screwed than most of us have ever been. Dude missed his ride and there will not be another along for, oh, four years. Supplies on hand were only meant to cover a few weeks, maybe months. And that Martian atmosphere is definitely no fun, lacking stuff like, oh, breathable air, and a reasonable range of temperature. It does, offer, however, extremely harsh (good for scouring that burned on gunk from sauce pans) and long-lasting (as in months) dust storms. And if that was not enough he faces an array of other challenges.

unfriendly locals

No, Kibby (the 12-year-old kibitzer who infects my brain), no Mars Attacks brain beasts, or that other guy, even though I know he is your favorite. Real challenges. For example, the music he has for his stay consists of disco. The viewing options include 70s TV. Most of us might give serious consideration to minimizing the guaranteed pain, frustration, starvation and inevitable death by, maybe, taking a short hustle outside sans that special suit. It would be a very, very short last dance. Watney is either a cock-eyed optimist or an idiot. I'm going with the former, as he is indeed made of the right stuff. He is armored and well supplied with the sort of can-do designer genes that might make the rest of us feel like the can’t-do sorts we are. He is the poster boy for positive attitude. It does not hurt that he is way smart, with expertise in a wide-enough range of things scientific to matter. It does not hurt that he is an engineer who gets off on taking apart, putting back-together, figuring out, thinking through, testing, trying, and pushing envelopes. But his crew is headed home, and what hope is there, really?


The Martian tells of Watney’s attempt to survive in a literally alien environment, using only the tools on hand and his wits. It is a gripping story with one of the most adorable heroes you are likely to encounter, on this planet or any other. (No, Kibby, not a kitten) How could you not root for a guy who scrapes through Thanksgiving dinner for potato parts to plant for food? Of course, one might think “been there, done that,” particularly as 1964’s Robin Crusoe on Mars offered a retelling of Daniel Defoe’s classic tale in a more contemporary notion of a remote locale. A 1905 novel used a different classic traveler in the same sort of format.


Of course those tellings had a lot more in common with the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs as seen by Frank Frazetta than they do with the vision we have of the Red Planet today, or, say, reality.

Zabriskie Point 612

Or is it?
somewhere out there
One of these was a shot of you know where. The other was taken at Death Valley, which was used, BTW, in the filming of Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Most of the tale is spent on Watney’s very compelling attempt to survive, going through all the challenges he faces trying to make air, preserve and maybe generate water, make his food last, get some sort of communication set up, deal with things like exploding air-locks, biblical level dust-storms, toppling ground-transport vehicles, you know, stuff, most of it life-threatening. The other end of things is how the folks on the ground deal with this GInornous OOPS. There are technical elements, of course but more interesting, for me, were the political considerations. To tell the crew or not? Imagine how bummed out, embarrassed, and guilty you might be on that ship (the Hermes) returning home, knowing you had left one behind. Might it affect your ability to take care of necessary business for the next bunch of months? Another question is whether to tell the public, and if so, when. How about getting help from other space-capable nations? Are any international dealings simple? There is also some in-house (NASA) staff maneuvering that is wonderful to see.

Andy Weir

In her fabulous book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes
Having a likeable narrator is like having a great friend whose company you love, whose mind you love to pick, whose running commentary totally holds your attention, who makes you laugh out loud…
Probably the greatest strength of The Martian is the narration of Mark Watney. He is engaging and funny, optimistic and capable. I suppose there are some who might find him lacking in sharp edges, but I thought he worked great.

Matt Damon as Mark Watney, enjoying the view – from the film.

The new earth-based shooting location was Wadi Rum, Jordan. I am sure they did plenty of color adjustments in post, but boy-o-boy does this place look like an alien landscape.

Yes, really, there is too much scientific detail. It is not that it is beyond the comprehension of a lot of readers (although it will skip by a fair number) it is the share of time, the number of pages, the sheer volume of obstacles to be overcome, and the very detailed explanation of so many of them that tilts the book a bit too much towards the MacGyver demo. Weir writes very well about the other elements of the story. Repetition of DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, with the subsequent amazingly clever repair du jour, does get a bit old after a while. I had to fight an urge to scan at times.

But that is really it. Otherwise, The Martian is an absolute delight to read. Watney is lovable as well as capable, and makes excellent use of his sense of humor to look on the bright side of life, in a very dark circumstance.

Whether he makes it out on time or not (not gonna spoil that one) you will cheer him on, hope for the best, and fly past those pages with considerable, if maybe not interplanetary, speed. Is there life on Mars? There will be while you read this book.

Review posted – 1/16/15
Updated and trotted out there again on release of the film - 10/2/15
This review has been cross-posted on my site, Cootsreviews.com

Publication date – self-pub in 2011 – Bought, edited and published by Crown 10/28/2014

PS - Saw the film on 10/9/15 and it kicks ass! Go see it if you haven't already. It is very true to the book, with the improvement of not getting bogged down in details, has a great cast, looks amazing and does a fantastic job of promoting science.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and FB pages.

5/24/16 - Weir wrote a short story prequel to The Martian, called Diary of an AssCan. I posted a review this week. It includes a link to the story, so you can read it for yourself.

Andy Weir’s second novel, Artemis, while, IMHO, not quite up to this one, is also pretty darned good.

August, 2016 - At the Hugo awards Weir wins the John W, Campbell award for best new writer, and the screenplay for the film wins for Best Dramatic Presentation, long form

The Martian Chronicles on Gutenberg

Gullivar of Mars by Edwin Lester Linden Arnold on Gutenberg

For a real Martian experience check out NASA’s Mars page

For a realer Martian experience, and ideal for those trying to keep one step ahead of creditors and/or the law, you might want to consider applying to be on a Mars mission, no joke. There is more on this project below but the above link is for the selection process, just in case you don’t mind a strictly one-way journey.

A nifty article from the NY Times (10/5/15) about the woman at NASA responsible for seeing to it that we do not bring Earth germs you-know-where - Mars Is Pretty Clean. Her Job at NASA Is to Keep It That Way. - by Kenneth Chang

I bet you thought I’d forgotten these guys. No chance! I just ran out of time to figure out how to stuff them into the review. So, sorry, I am stuffing them here. That sounds so wrong.

If you want to experience Mars while still on earth, it is indeed possible


A general National Geo article on Mars

Planetary.Org has an excellent list of all Mars missions to date, and some that are in process

When you are checking your ancestry some of that unusual DNA might come from a place, far, far away. Two scientists look at the unfortunately named notion of Panspermia, (view spoiler) which addresses the possibility that the genesis of life on Earth had its opening act elsewhere.

If you want to know Who goes to Mars for the waters, the answer is yes

And speaking of Eau d'Ares, a nifty article on the presence of H2OMG you know where, in the 9/28/15 article in the NY Times - by Kenneth Chang. Thanks to my pal, Henry B, for this refreshing item.

8/31/16 - Another recommendation from the intrepid Henry B. Planning any long trips, HB? - How to Win Friends and Influence People (on Fake Mars) by Katie Rogers
- New York Times

Downhill streaks indicate water has flowed - image from NY Times who got it from NASA who got it from JPL

Here is a nifty article from The New Yorker, on work being done to cope with inter-planetary cabin fever. Moving to Mars: Preparing for the longest, loneliest voyage ever by Tom Kizzia - from the April 20, 2015 issue

9/12/16 - If, like Quint, you think we're gonna need a bigger boat, to get to Mars that is, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin company may have just the thing - Meet New Glenn, the Blue Origin Rocket That May Someday Take You to Space - By Daniel Victor for the New York Times

9/27/16 - New York Times - Elon Musk’s Plan: Get Humans to Mars, and Beyond - by Kenneth Chang

10/25/16 -National Geographic is producing a documentary series about our favorite red-tinted neighbor (no, not the lady across the way who got too much sun. Put those binoculars away NOW). Coverage in the latest issue includes a whole passel of things Martian. Enjoy. - Mars: Inside the High-Risk, High-Stakes Race to the Red Planet

From the August 2017 National Geographic - This Is What a Martian Looks Like—According to Carl Sagan - By Natasha Daly

Painting by Douglas Chaffe - from the above NatGeo article

9/17/17 - Washington Post re-printing an AP story - Mars Research Crew Emerges After 8 Months of Isolation - Caleb Jones

12/16/17 - NY Times Sunday Review - Tim Kreider offers his take on why we should go Red - Earthlings, Unite: Let’s Go to Mars

5/4/18 - NatGeo - Interesting piece on the latest Martian explorer, Insight - Are Marsquakes Anything Like Earthquakes? NASA Is About to Find Out - by Nadia Drake

Illustration of Insight deployed - Photo by Lockheed Martin, NASA, JPL-Caltech

All right. We’re all done now. You’d better get going or Marvin will lose his cool


Oh, sorry Marvin, just one more thing, lists.

Abbott and Costello go to Mars
The Angry Red Planet
Bad Girls From Mars
The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
Capricorn One
Devil Girl From Mars
Empire of Danger
Escape From Mars
Flight to Mars
Ghosts of Mars
Invaders from Mars
The Last days on Mars
Lost on Mars
Mars Needs Moms
Mars Needs Women
Mission to Mars
Race to Mars
Red Planet
Red Planet Mars
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Rocket Man
Roving Mars
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The Terror from Beyond Space
Total Recall

TV Programs
Is There Life on Mars – PBS
My Favorite Martian
Life On Mars – British
Life on Mars – American
Mars One – Proposed - (check this one out)
Race to Mars

2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson
The Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
----- A Princess of Mars on Gutenberg - and my review
-----The Gods of Mars
-----The Warlord of Mars
-----Thuvia, Maid of Mars
-----The Chessmen of Mars
-----The Master Mind of Mars
-----A Fighting Man of Mars
-----Swords of Mars
----- Synthetic Men of Mars
-----Llana of Gathol
-----John Carter of Mars
Blades of Mars – Edward P. Bradbury
C.O.D Mars – E.C. Tubb
The Caves of Mars – Emil Petaja
Children of Mars – Paul G Day
City of the Beast – Michael Moorcock
The Daughter of Mars – Thomas Keneally
The Empress of Mars – Kage Baker
First on Mars – Rex Gordon
Icehenge – Kim Stanley Robinson
Life on Mars – Jennifer Brown
Life on Mars (a different one) – Jonathan Strahan
The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett
Mars – Ben Bova
Mars is my Destination – Frank Belknap Long
Mars Plus – Frederick Pohl
The Mars Trilogy – Kim Stanley Robinson
-----Blue Mars
-----Green Mars
-----Red Mars
Marsquakes – Kevin F. Owens
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Masters of the Pit – Michael Moorcock
Moving Mars – Greg Bear
No Man Friday – Rex Gordon
Old Mars – George R.R. Martin
Packing for Mars – Mary Roach – ok, not a novel
Podkayne of Mars - Robert Heinlein
Prelude to Mars – Arthur C. Clarke
Priests of Mars – Graham McNeill
The Road to Mars – Eric Idle
The Sands of Mars – Arthur C. Clarke
Sebastian Of Mars – Al Sarrantino
Shadow Over Mars – Leigh Brackett
Sin in Space – Cyrill Judd (Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril)
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
Urania – Camille Flammarion
White Mars – Brian Aldiss
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Reading Progress

January 1, 2015 – Started Reading
January 1, 2015 – Shelved
January 8, 2015 – Finished Reading
January 15, 2015 – Shelved as: books-of-the-year-2014
January 15, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction
January 15, 2015 – Shelved as: science
January 15, 2015 – Shelved as: travel
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction

Comments Showing 1-50 of 252 (252 new)

Ronyell Ooh! Ii can't wait to hear your opinions on this book!

message 2: by Will (last edited Jul 30, 2020 07:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes =======================EXTRA EXTRA STUFF

7/25/18 - NY Times - If Watney had landed a bit to the south he may have had an easier time of it - An Underground Lake is Detected on Mars, Raising the Potential for Alien Life - by Kenneth Chang

7/30/20 - National Geographic - Rewind the Red Planet - This is a must-see, totally amazing visual look at how the Martian landscape has changed over three billion years

Ronyell Will wrote: "Hopefully a week from Friday"


message 4: by B (new) - rated it 4 stars

B Schrodinger Will wrote: "Yes, really, there is too much scientific detail."

Next you'll be telling me that one can have too much sex.

message 5: by Henry (last edited Jan 16, 2015 12:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Henry Avila Terrific review, but what about a favorite film of mine, Will, Robinson Crusoe on Mars? It could be the best movie on the subject... needs more info. Silly title wrecked its reputation.

Will Byrnes Thought I covered that with the film poster image, but fine, I can add it to the movie list too.

Laura Excellent review Will, superb!!

message 8: by Will (last edited Mar 28, 2015 04:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Laura. And I wrote it without saying this book is out of this world....oops

Laura :O)

message 10: by C. Himmel (new) - added it

C. Himmel im goingto school

message 11: by StormblessedZeN (new)

StormblessedZeN Epic review is epic. Fantastic rundown and usage of gif. pics.

message 12: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Zen

message 13: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Would you recommend this to someone who isn't a fan of sci fi?

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Yes, engaging is engaging, regardless of genre, and this Arthur C. Clarke technical approach to sci-fi keeps this story very grounded in reality.

Michael Your entertaining review convinces me to give this one another try. I kind of got bogged down with the details and wasn't sure I wanted to stay trapped with the perpetually plucky character.

I read my share of Mars books, from Heinlein's "Podkayne of Mars" to most recently te wonderful Varley books "Red Thunder" and "Red Lightning". In between the Bova and Kim books were satisfying in trying to capture a realistic feel to the adventure. Sad how the hopefulness over space colonization has almost totally given away for dark visions of apocalypse.

message 16: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick Awesome review Sir,I am intrigued to read this now:)

Kandi I LOVED this book! I'm so glad you've read it, too! This definitely deserves 5 stars

Brandon This is one hell of a review, sir. Liked this one as well.

Jeffrey Keeten I had the most fun reading this book. The most fun reading a book in a long time. I'm so glad to see those five stars. I found the science fascinating, but many readers have found it overwhelming. Luckily most of them stayed with the book.

You really put the extra chamois work on this review. I'm ticking up the hours of work in my head. Wonderful job Will! Extra points for MARVIN!

message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Jeff. Marvin ROCKS!!!

message 22: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike French Glad you enjoyed it. I certainly did!

message 23: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Excellent review, Will!

message 24: by Lynda (new) - added it

Lynda Wow, Will. Just Wow. I loved this review, and the pictures to accompany it were perfect. While we all might be pretty much fucked, you certainly got your shit together on this one! :-)

message 25: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Lynda. I had a lot of fun writing this one.

Michael Fierce Super-cool review, Will. Love the Mars to Robinson Crusoe on Mars comparison ~ I have the movie DVR'd btw. Damn...you spent a lot of time on this review. I know and have many of the Planetary Romance/Space Operas you listed at the end but I'll have to check out the ones I don't have or don't know sometime.

message 27: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Michael

message 28: by Vina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Vina Upon your review, I decided to read 'The Martian' and I must say I am definitely not disappointed. Amazing review

message 29: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Vina. It is an impressive book.

Joanne Great review. I loved this books as well

Steve I was excited about this one before your review, and now I'm damn near corybantic. As well read as you are in all things Martian, I view you as the voice of authority, Will. If you say it's good, it must be good. And it sounds like it's especially strong in the regions beyond science fiction. When a narrator is funny, smart and likable, it's a pleasure no matter the topic.

BTW, do you know if there's any truth to the rumor that Weir's sister Andrea is writing a companion book called The Venusian?

message 32: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes ROFL

message 33: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Oh master of everything Martian....do you happen to know, Will, how many WB cartoons featured Marvin and K-9?

message 34: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes According to this link, it would be 21 for Marvin

Farrell Great review will, it made me want to read the book.

message 36: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Glad you liked the review. The Martian is a wonderful read.

Rebbie Excellent review, Will. Now I can't wait to read the book. :)

message 38: by Cecily (last edited Jul 13, 2015 05:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily 5* and gripes and a huge list of related material. Lists are appropriate: Watney needed them, and I couldn't escape the idea that Weir had a checklist of tropes as well. But like you, I enjoyed it nevertheless.

I note you describe Watney as "adorable", and I know what you mean. He ought to be more annoying than he was, and that word captures the sort of benevolent parental feeling he inspired.

message 39: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Cecily. Watney is nothing if not plucky and adorable. Maybe decades from now an earlier version of the book will be discovered in the attic of an elderly Weir heir, in which Watney is revealed to be far less adorable than he is in this, final version.

Cecily Ha ha!

Or maybe that's a tactic for fan-fic?

Kristal I agree with your review 100 percent! As for your opening line...I will raise my hand for that one, sometimes it seems to be my daily motto!!

message 42: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Kristal wrote: "I agree with your review 100 percent! As for your opening line...I will raise my hand for that one, sometimes it seems to be my daily motto!!"
So many hands in the air. As Lieutenant Dunbar might say, "Like the stars."

message 43: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne You like lists. And you're thorough! Entertaining again!

message 44: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Suzanne wrote: "You like lists. And you're thorough! Entertaining again!"
…and books, and music, and sunsets and taking photographs, and my kids, and our cats, and sunsets…and...

William Those words? Exactly? How often? ... Every day?

message 46: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Too often

message 47: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Divertie Hmmm, weird people here, you need a life. I've raced Sports Cars since 1972. Lived in the Middle East for ten years for the MIB as a tech/engineer and I can relate to Mr. Watney. I hate "managers", not bureaucrats per se they have managers too, LOL. Managers always made my life miserable, no nothing jerks, but I'm retired now, so it don't matter. Certainly not as smart as him, but I recognize the approach to problem solving, my worst shortcoming besides being insubordinate, was an inability to estimate time to complete steps. My steps were always well thought out and planned, by my time to completion wasn't always so good. My insubordination helped a lot here. Rah!

message 48: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Divertie Read on a few more pages! And lo and behold, insubordination! Reality, at least to me. This is how life really works if you're a Craftsman, Technician, Engineer, or Scientist. My insubordination always turns into "our" efforts, which becomes "their" bonuses. For which I get zip point doo-dah, except the satisfaction of doing the job right, which is considerable I will admit. I love our capitalist slave owner, overseer system of management. If what I'm describing here doesn't seem like your reality, you're probably part of the slave owning overseer system. Or you are suffering from a type of alcoholics "denial"?

Carmen Great review, Will!

Elyse  Walters The BEST review of this book. I should know... lol. I've read most of them!!! Ha!

I mentioned you in my silly review

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