Novelties: “The Martian,” by Andy Weir

While it may be tempting to dismiss science fiction writing as somehow less relevant than other fiction due to its often speculative nature—dealing as it does with undiscovered worlds, unknown cultures, or fantastical technologies—the fact of the matter is that some of the best social commentary can be found in your library’s sci-fi section. Going beyond the reality that we know gives us a chance to imagine how we would think and act in scenarios that would test us in ways we are unlikely to encounter normally, and the results of those tests tell us a lot about who we really are, both individually and as a society.

In The Martian (2014), Andy Weir tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is part of a manned mission to Mars that is forced to terminate its stay early due to hazardous conditions on the red planet. In the course of their evacuation during a severe dust storm, Watney’s suit is compromised, causing him to be left behind when all available information points to his already being dead. He recovers from his ordeal to find that the rest of the crew has left the planet and that he has no way of contacting them or Earth to request a rescue—perhaps a moot point since any rescue attempt would arrive too late to save him from starvation in any case. What unfolds is a story of survival, of Watney versus the Martian elements armed with only those supplies left behind by the crew and a wry sense of humor that keeps him going in the face of certain death. Written as a series of journal entries, this fast-paced novel manages to communicate the urgency driving Watney’s predicament in a way that demonstrates his intellect and competence while maintaining a high level of suspense.
Our next novel is also set on Mars, but not the desolate, unexplored Mars of the near future. Instead, Moving Mars (1993) shows us a planet long ago colonized by Earth and currently struggling to determine its destiny. Casseia Majumdar is a young Martian woman whose development is central to the story, as is the larger evolution of the Martian colony as a political entity. In the years since the planet was first colonized, Mars has become home to second- and third-generation Martians who wish to advocate for autonomy from an Earth that is increasingly hostile to Martian interests. This political drama is exacerbated by certain technological breakthroughs that threaten to fundamentally change the relationship between the two planets. Author Greg Bear creates a world rich with backstory and character development, and slowly—perhaps too slowly for some readers—brings the narrative to a boil. Winner of the 1994 Nebula Award, Moving Mars is epic in scale and a good selection for fans of hard science fiction.
The second read-alike for this month is The Dog Stars (2012), by Peter Heller. Like The Martian, The Dog Stars is a story about isolation and survival; however, Heller’s novel takes place not on Mars but on a plague-ravaged Earth. Set after not one but two superbugs wipe out the bulk of the population, the story is told by Hig, a former contractor and pilot living in an abandoned airport with his dog and a fellow survivor named Bangley. With Hig providing airborne surveillance and Bangley bringing tactical knowledge and firepower, the two have carved out a reasonably secure niche while remaining emotionally distanced from each other. When a traumatic event causes Hig to question his commitment to their day-by-day existence, he heads off in search of something he cannot name—meaning, redemption, or perhaps just something new. Heller uses his apocalypse to empty out the world so that he can examine the ways in which we might fill it again, and the result is an uplifting, if bittersweet, tale.

The Martian, Moving Mars, and The Dog Stars are all available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library. In addition, The Martian and The Dog Stars can be borrowed as eBooks through OverDrive. You can also access NoveList Plus from our eLibrary’s Reading Suggestions section. If the book you are interested in is not currently on the shelf at your branch, you can always request that a copy be sent to the branch of your choice in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.


Launched by Ronald Martin.