Why it’s super:
The Martian has a great, traditional thriller/horror setup with huge stakes. The first rule of horror is to take away methods of communication and isolate the character. In this case, rather than a cut telephone line, it’s the radio and all contact with Earth so that they don’t even know that you are alive! Leave it yourself to be rescued! The similarities end there, and then the book becomes a survivial story about a the harsh and unforgiving surface of Mars versus one man’s ingenuity and the powers of NASA.
Much like Hugh Howey and his book, Wool, Andy Weir started the publication process by releasing the book chapter by chapter on his website, then offering it on Amazon for a minimal price, and finding himself a bestselling author soon after. The chapters were designed to keep you reading, and they do just that! Page to page, the astronaut must solve problems that, in many cases, he himself created as a result of past solutions.
Curriculum Connections: This book details problems and solutions in many fields, including botany (environmental science,) chemistry, physics, and mathematics, which is integrated throughout the whole story. Looking for that book to bridge the gap between literature and mathematics? Well, this is it!
Why it’s villainous:
Mark Watney, our “down-to-earth” Martian protagonist, brings humor and realism to a highly imaginative hypothetical situation. The humor almost balances out the math, but not quite!
This book might be too much hard science fiction for some people, but a relief for many traditional sci fi fans. These books have become much more rare in the genre, but originally a book labeled science fiction would include mathematical computations of some sort, or some hard science to back up the story. Nowadays, in a world of computer graphics in movies, science fiction has moved away from science and into the world of pure fantasy. It has also been used as a means to describe social problems or to explore philosophy, as it does in our favorites, Star Wars and Star Trek. I myself was puzzled by the lack of a Martian monster, what with the dreamy quality of the cover, but excited by the prospects of utilizing the book in the classroom.
This book is a great blend between imagination, the “What If?” question about a likely future, mixed with real science to back it up. That is, after all, what science fiction is all about!
Tip: Read it while enjoying a hearty baked potato and some 70’s disco playing in the background!