Volume 33, Number 02, Winter, 2015

The Martian

by Andy Weir

Reviewed by Rick Triplett
July 2015

The Martian is not a clearly libertarian book, nor do I have any reason to believe that Andy Weir is libertarian. It is, however, a page-turning tale of hard science fiction with three features that could incline readers in the direction of rationality and liberty.

The plot is as striking as it is simple. A group of astronauts lands on Mars, but shortly into their mission have to evacuate because of a fierce storm. They leave Mark Whatney, apparently dead, behind. As it happens—and this is not a spoiler, but mentioned in the advertising for the novel—Mark is not dead. What follows is the engrossing tale of his struggle to survive. The author describes two earlier, scrapped attempts to write a novel, so this one is essentially his first. I mention this because it amazes me that a first novel could be so well written. I had difficulty putting it down, and a movie is out now.

The first merit of this book is that it is a survival tale. Survival is the enterprise of life, and any tale that encourage us to use our minds to overcome obstacles rather than plundering the production of others is a welcome addition, not just to our libraries but to our attitude towards living well. Fans of Rand will respond especially well to Mark’s relentlessly rational mindset and his near epic determination.

The second merit of this book is the gentle but telling gibes it takes at the governmental bureaucracy inherent in the astronaut program on Earth. While teams of scientists contribute steadily to the problem solving woven through the plot’s many conflicts, the half dozen or so critical breakthroughs that occur are the product of individuals working hard, being original, and—several times—succeeding despite hindrance from their bosses.

Finally, this tale is an inspiring yarn of can-do individualism, like most of Heinlein’s stories. Complex engineering requires teams of experts and always has. But neither collectivist values nor centralized power are essential to such endeavors. Too many people believe that “it takes a village”; Andy Weir reminds us that free-minds can cooperate very well, thank you, and don’t need to be herded like cattle.

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