frontier reads


Before I get into plot, characters and fun factor, I have to make a key point — we might need a new genre for books like “The Martian.”

You see, it’s a science fiction novel, but author Andy Weir made an intentional effort to get much of the science right. That’s important because most readers are accustomed to science fiction being just that — completely made up.

“Beam me up, Scotty.” “Use the force, Luke.” “I’ll be back.”

These quotes from “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “The Terminator” are some of my favorites from science fiction, but the stories they come from don’t do much to educate audiences about the amazing things science can do in real life.

We all love being transported to a different place with a fantastic fiction novel. But there’s something even more mind blowing about a science novel that says, “This story is going to be a wild ride, and guess what, reader? A lot of this is actually real.”


Don’t get me wrong, not everything is accurate in “The Martian.” One example is the massive dust storm in the beginning of the story that threatens to destroy the crew’s rocket ship, forcing them to leave Mars early. In real life, Mars’ atmosphere isn’t dense enough for a weather event like this, and Weir admits he needed something dramatic to strand Watney, so this was his solution.

In some cases, we can only make educated guesses when writing stories about celestial bodies beyond our own planet. After all, we still make educated guesses about Earth. So I’m not exactly suggesting we create a genre called “science-kinda-fiction,” but the effort to integrate facts into an entertaining story, in my view, is worthy of applause.

I can’t help but make a side note about another story that is based heavily on real science. If you liked the movie “Interstellar,” you should read “The Science of Interstellar” by Kip Thorne. My mind melted when I realized the movie was written with two rules: One, they didn’t break any known scientific principals; and two, if they made an educated guess, it had to be approved by the leading scientists of that particular field. Pretty cool way to blend real science with entertainment.

OK, point made. Let’s get into what made “The Martian” such a fun read.

The book involves a manned mission to Mars where crew member Mark Watney gets left behind because he is presumed dead after catastrophe forces his crew to scrub the mission early and fly back to Earth on short notice. He has no way to communicate with Earth and even if he could, it would take a very long time for a rescue crew to get to him. Yikes.

When Watney realizes he’s alone on the red planet, he doesn’t give up hope, resigning himself to slowly watch his oxygen and food deplete while waiting for a pitiful death. Instead, he uses scientific ingenuity, patience and his sharpest creative thinking to overcome devastating odds so he can survive.

Jesse Boudiette is president of Propeller Communications. He reviewed "The Martians" by

Jesse Boudiette, president of Propeller Communications, reviews “The Martian” by Andy Weir.

Fiction or not, I have to say this Mark guy reacted in a much better way than I would. I mean, I don’t do well when I realize I’m out of milk AFTER pouring a bowl of cereal, so I can only imagine the temper tantrum I’d throw if I were a castaway on Mars. Let’s not go there. (No, seriously, I’m not ever going to Mars after reading this book.) But I digress.

Because his crewmates left the planet in a hurry, they took only the necessities, leaving behind a relatively substantial amount of supplies. Watney has at his disposal a rover, spare space suits and oxygen tanks, tools, research gear and a temporary habitat designed to host the crew during their exploration. Although clearly not ideal, this leaves him with a substantial amount of supplies with which to get creative.

The captivating aspect of this book is the thoughtful scientific approach Watney uses to stay alive. The reader experiences his story in the form of the astronaut’s daily journal, in which he recounts his thought process as he examines his situation, takes stock of supplies and resources, then evaluates his options.

Watney, a botanist, finds ways to extract water from hydrogen and even grow a modest food crop. He develops ways to extend the delivery of electricity by his various power sources.

For every solution, he gives a quick lesson on physics, botany or engineering, followed by his hypothesis and then the results of his work. It’s a fun way for the reader to explore plausible solutions to life-threatening challenges. It’s like MacGyver-meets-Apollo 13. Although some parts get a little technical for the layperson like myself, the overriding message I walked away with is that science is, in fact, cool.

Of course, problems continue to arise along the way. Watney is smart, but he’s not perfect and some of his calculations end up being wrong, very wrong. The dust storms continue and when he stretches the limits of his equipment’s intended use, snags invariably occur.

All along the way, Watney has a fun, light-hearted attitude. When he finds a way to produce water, his journal entry says “Yay!” When he figures out make-shift farming, he declares himself the greatest botanist on the planet. Get it? He’s the only one there. Hilarious.

Although some criticize this character element as being just a little too relaxed in such harsh conditions, I found it fun and engaging. And he’s not all roses and sunshine. When things go very wrong at one point, his journal entry includes the gratuitous “F**k you, Mars.”

Once Watney figures out how to extend his life expectancy, the big question for the reader — and his character — is whether he can reestablish contact with Earth and somehow get home. I’ll skip the spoiler alerts and just say “The Martian” continues to find ways to keep the reader turning the page. New challenges, new characters and new scientific solutions abound in this novel, which left me searching for my next sci-fi thriller.

Jesse Boudiette is president of Propeller Communications. His favorite book is “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett.