Ridley Scott’s The Martian just had a massive $55 million opening weekend. Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a stranded astronaut whose limited supplies are made up for by an abundance of wit and ingenuity. The film has received wide critical acclaim, with many praising its grounded, human focus which, in contrast to Scott’s previous sci-fi thrillers, Alien, Prometheus, or, arguably, the awful Exodus: Gods and Kings, is devoid of aliens, mysticism, and supernatural forces.
Instead, The Martian is about smart people solving difficult problems. (How do you grow food on Mars? How do you send more food to Mars as soon as possible? How do you get water out of rocket fuel?) Scott highlights this pragmatic spirit with a visual gag: after Watney narrowly escapes death, he is shown contemplating a statuette of Jesus on the cross… before cutting it to pieces. The cross wasn’t even Watney’s; he found it in a crewmate’s bunk while looking for something to burn.
The Martian owes its scientific fluency and unabashed pragmatism to Andy Weir, author of the novel that inspired the film, who meticulously researched astronomy, chemistry, and existing space technology in order to make it as realistic as possible.
After finishing Weir’s book I was hungry for more. Luckily, Weir offers a treasure trove of short stories on his website, a number of which break with The Martian’s goal of approximating reality, grappling instead with some of the same issues that we discuss here at The Cubit. Without further ado, here are the top three short stories for anyone jonesing for more Weir:
- Bored World. The story of a mischievous, trans-dimensional plane of existence. Is this a god, or the story of sci-fi itself?
- Antihypoxiant. Here at The Cubit we’ve been tracking shifts in our cultural attitudes towards health, diet, and medicine. In “Antihypoxiant,” Weir pushes a fictional scientist to the limit of a certain kind of care.