The Martian was the runaway science fiction success story of 2014. Weir’s book began life as a self-published book (way back in 2012) and eventually rose to national and international stardom. It’s even being fast-tracked for a November 2015 movie: Ridely Scott directing, Matt Damon staring. Take that, Interstellar! If The Martian is eligible for the 2015 Hugo Award, it’s likely to be a major contender—but the eligibility questions are serious and substantial. I’ve addressed those in my Andy Weir’s Eligibility Post; I want to write about the novel in this post, and not get caught up in the “will it or won’t it be eligible” questions here.
The Martian is a fast-paced SF thriller about astronaut Mark Watney. Through Mark’s journals, we learn how he’s been left for dead on Mars, and how he has to utilize all his engineering and botany skills to survive in that harsh landscape. Chock-full of rich engineering detail (turning rocket fuel into water, growing potatoes, maintaining his Mars habitat, etc.), The Martian zips through Mark’s survival and NASA’s attempts to rescue him. Weir delivers a well-detailed and well-imagined Mars with lots of plausible detail. Engaging and very accessible, it’s easy to see why The Martian was a bestseller; it’s somewhat reminiscent of the movie Gravity, and totally out of step with almost everything else that’s being published in SF today.
The Martian feels like a throwback to old-school “engineering solves problems” SF: as challenges come up, our hero uses SCIENCE to solve them. There’s a golden-age style optimism of the ability of scientific knowledge and human ingenuity to overcome the most hostile landscapes. I found The Martian reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic A Fall of Moondust, although Weir isn’t as interested in character development as Clarke. That’s probably the major flaw of the book: Mark starts and ends the novel the same person, and none of the secondary characters are fleshed out in any substantial way. Still, if you’re looking for a quick and exciting SF adventure uncluttered by deeper philosophical concerns, The Martian is perfect for you.
I hope that doesn’t sound disparaging of The Martian, because it wasn’t meant to be. Weir is writing a different kind of SF novel; while an author like Ann Leckie is drawing on the complex, densely structured futures of Iain M. Banks, Weir is focused primarily on action and plot. I think the indie roots of The Martian are clearly visible here: it’s not trying to be “important” or “significant” in the way of some other SFF writers, but instead trying to be entertaining and accessible. While that can be wearing at times—Weir overuses exclamation points, for instance, and the sheer number of engineering crises Watney survives is improbable—it is also refreshingly different.
The Martian brings up all sorts of interesting questions about what exactly science fiction can and should be. I think there’s plenty of space in the SF landscape for novels like this, but it’s telling that this didn’t find a mainstream publisher until after it was successful on Amazon. The Hugo and Nebula awards have yet to come to terms with the indie publishing scene. Readers seem to be happier with The Martian and Wool than with Echopraxia or Ancillary Sword, and I imagine this will be a major issue of contention in the coming decade.
I have The Martian fourth on my current Hugo Prediction, but crossed out due to eligibility issues. This is the kind of novel that was so widely read that it would have a great chance of a nomination; even if it’s not people’s first choice, it was probably memorable enough to make a lot of ballots, particularly if you’re a fan of Hard SF. Weir is showing up on most Year-End Lists, and he’s supremely popular on places like Goodreads. Except him to be an essential part of this year’s conversation despite eligibility issues.
The Martian was broadly and positively reviewed when it came out, with plenty of follow-up articles on Andy Weir’s self-publication journey after it became a bestseller. In terms of mainstream publicity, Weir certainly outstripped any other SF release of 2014.
WordPress Blog Reveiwers:
Book Reviews Forevermore (4 out of 5)
Attack of the Books
Rhapsody in Books (4 out of 5)
Overflowing Heart Reviews
Violin in a Void (7 out of 10)
Drunken Dragon Reviews (4 out of 5)
Ristea’s Reads (5 out of 5)
BiblioSanctum (4.5 out of 5)
and on . . . and on . . .
I could have put up a ton more reviews, but this is a good representative sampling. The Martian was widely and positively received by WordPress bloggers, and, since the hardcover has been out since February (with the paperback out in November), there’s been plenty of time for people to read. Once again, if we go on sheer popularity alone, The Martian will be on a lot of ballots.
One of the great unanswered questions going into the 2015 Hugo and Nebula season concerns the eligibility of Andy Weir’s The Martian. Weir’s book was a runaway success in 2014, selling tons of copies by tapping into the same vein that made the film Gravity such a hit. If you stroll over to Goodreads, you’ll see that The Martian has 30,000+ ratings and a 4.33 score. In comparison, last year’s Hugo and Nebula winner, Ancillary Justice, has under 10,000 ratings and a 3.96 score. While The Martian wasn’t a huge hit amongst SF critics, it was staggeringly popular with the general public. If The Martian is eligible for this year’s awards, it’d likely be a major contender on that popularity alone.
But . . . there are lingering eligibility issues. Long story short: Weir self-published the novel on Amazon in 2012. The novel did well, and was picked up by a mainstream press (Crown publishing) and republished in February 2014. Any changes to the narrative seem to be minor. If you take the 2012 date as the date of first publication, Weir is not eligible for the 2015 Hugo or Nebula. If you take the 2014 date, he would be.
I have no idea how this will be resolved. I want to use this post as a repository for information; if anyone has any good sources on Weir’s eligibility, I’d love to link them here. Here’s what I have so far:
Weir’s own take on his Hugo eligibility from a Goodreads Q+A session:
I don’t know for sure. My interpretation of the Hugo rules is that it’s not eligible. The Awards are year-by-year. Although the print version of The Martian came out in 2014, I posted it to my website as a serial starting in 2012. The Hugos don’t discriminate between print publication and self-publication. Therefore, to them, I think The Martian is a work from 2012. So it’s not within the time period to be eligible.
While I don’t think serializing on your website would count as “publication” (how is that different than serializing a novel in a magazine?), the Hugo clock likely began when Weir self-published the novel through Amazon, as per this publication timeline, taken from the Wall Street Journal:
He’d been rebuffed by literary agents in the past, so he decided to put the novel on his website free of charge rather than to try to get it published. A few fans asked him to sell the story on Amazon so that they could download it to e-readers. Mr. Weir had been giving his work away, but he began charging a modest amount because Amazon set the minimum price at 99 cents. He published the novel as a serial on the site in September 2012. It rose to the top of Amazon’s list of best-selling science-fiction titles. He sold 35,000 copies in three months. Agents and publishers and movie studios started circling.
Now, compare that info to the official paragraph on eligibility, taken from the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society:
Section 3.4: Extended Eligibility. In the event that a potential Hugo Award nominee receives extremely limited distribution in the year of its first publication or presentation, its eligibility may be extended for an additional year by a three fourths (3/4) vote of the intervening Business Meeting of WSFS.
I can’t imagine that 35,000 copies meets the “limited distribution” requirement. Aside from that, a one year extension wouldn’t help The Martian because of the 2012 publication date.
I even asked about Weir’s eligibility over at the official Hugo website. They didn’t give me a definite answer:
Will Andy Weir’s book The Martian be eligible for the Hugo Award in 2015? It was originally indie-published, but then published by a commercial press in 2014. The rules seem unclear about this.
August 28, 2014 at 21:25
You’ll need to address your question directly to the 2015 Hugo Administrator (Select “Hugo Administrator” from the Committee List) to get a definite answer to this; however, the Hugo Award rules are pretty clear about the fact that first publication is what starts a work’s “clock.” The fact that a work is self-published, published by a small press, or by a large press isn’t relevant. Publication date is publication date, regardless of who publishes it.
That was as far as I pushed it; I didn’t think it was my place to “officially” ask the 2015 Hugo Administrator.
Based on the evidence we have so far, I’d come down on the side of Weir not being eligible for the 2015 Hugo or Nebula. I doubt that either award will issue an official statement; they’ll just let the process play out, and if he gets nominated, declare him ineligible at that time. As a result, I’ll be crossing Weir off of my Hugo and Nebula predictions.
Is this fair? I don’t know. Since The Martian came out in 2012, it’s had a long time to build up momentum, which might put it at an unfair advantage compared to books released this year. Don’t feel sorry for Weir: he sold a bunch of copies, The Martian is being made into a movie starring Matt Damon, and he’s now a major player in the SF landscape. He’ll survive without a Hugo or Nebula.