Andy Weir is a writer you can’t help but admire, and finding books like The Martian has become a popular hobby amongst readers. Weir originally published The Martian on his own website before the book grew in popularity and was picked up by an agent. Yet like most writers at the start of their journey, Weir was very much alone.
Themes of isolation and loneliness permeate the entire narrative of The Martian told as it is by protagonist Mark Watney after he is stranded on Mars. Watney’s stubborn determination to survive reflects virtually every person’s struggle to learn, to keep going, to fall, and to pick themselves up even when the odds are stacked against us.
The Martian and books similar to it use both humour, despair and joy to draw the reader in. If you’ve already read The Martian though, there are similarly themed books to enjoy.
8 Books like The Martian
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandell
Similar to The Martian in both theme and style, Station Eleven remains one of my favourite books of all time. Technically Station Eleven could be classed as ‘slip-stream genre’ as it does not fit entirely into science, dystopian or even contemporary fiction.
Published in 2014, it follows several characters who have survived a worldwide flu pandemic that has wiped out 99% of the human population. Twenty years later, a nomadic group of actors and musicians known simply as ‘The Travelling Symphony’ cross what’s left of North America performing to the few remnants of civilisation still going.
Exploring themes of loneliness and friendship, Station Eleven’s overriding message is to remind us all of the importance of culture and community. Mandell even borrows a line from Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine character as ‘The Travelling Symphony’s’ motto: ‘survival is insufficient.’
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Z for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien
If you’re looking for books like The Martian then be sure to check out O’Brien’s 1974 tale of Ann Burden, one of the last survivors of a nuclear war. Told entirely in diary form, Ann leads us along a lonely and increasingly terrifying journey of surviving in a world where there is no one else to talk to, but yourself.
Ann lives in a self-contained valley where the weather patterns have shielded her and the immediate countryside from nuclear fallout. Things become tense when a stranger arrives in a radiation suit. When he becomes sick from bathing in a pool of radioactive water, Ann nurses him back to health only to discover that being alone is sometimes better then being with the wrong company.
Echoing The Martian in terms of theme and 1st person narrative, Z for Zachariah is a haunting tale of one girl’s survival against all the odds. I first read this novel when I was 7 and it stayed with me long after I’d closed the book. To this day, I still think about Ann’s story from time to time and wonder how any of us would manage in a similar situation. The end of the book beautifully bookends the beginning and is well worth a read.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
Books like The Martian represent a positive push back against detractors of science fiction and fantasy. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is clever in the way it challenges misconceptions around race, gender identity and friendship. At times you can almost forget you’re reading a science fiction story and I often cite this novel as proof against anyone naive enough to assert science fiction doesn’t reflect contemporary issues.
Rosemary Harper has just joined the multi-species crew of ‘The Wayfarer’ as their new file clerk. Determined to escape her own past, she soon finds that other members of the crew have secrets of their own as the small space ship makes its slow journey towards a sub-space tunnelling job they have been contracted to complete. Each crew member could easily be someone you know struggling with their own identity, mental health issue, heritage, family trauma or more.
Other books similar to The Martian focus heavily on just one or two characters, but I would challenge anyone to find a novel that manages to make you feel the tears, laughter, fear and hope of at least 5 uniquely different characters.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet began its publishing life as a Kickstarter campaign to help Chambers take enough time off work to finish the book. Her belief in what she had written is admirably reflected in this wonderful tale of what it means to be alone and human, even in the far distant future.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Arthur Dent is having a very bad day. Not only was his house scheduled for demolition by the council, but the earth has unexpectedly been demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. So begins the first book of the hilariously inaccurate trilogy of sci-fi books following Arthur Dent as he makes his way through a galaxy filled with weirdos, poetry-reading aliens and the former President of the Galaxy who stole the first Probability Drive space ship.
The only constant Arthur has is his alien friend Ford Prefect and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a travel accessory you would never leave your planet without. Never again will you read a trilogy made up of six books. Never again will you agree to sit through a live poetry reading. Never again will you wonder what the dolphins are actually saying when they jump out of the water and wave their flippers.
Books like The Martian come in all shapes and sizes. Arthur’s loneliness in a galaxy filled with unknowns and ridiculousness might not be taken as seriously as Mark Watney’s struggle to survive. Yet the determination and courage this humbly-slippered Englishman shows in the face of awful poetry, depressed androids and ships that run on probability, rivals anything Watney has to deal with on Mars.
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Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson
Books like The Martian are scattered across the literary landscape. Only a few are as intriguing as Spin. Imagine you were stargazing one evening only to watch all the stars in the sky simultaneously disappear. That is the opening premise of this science fiction gem originally published in 2005.
Many readers tend to treat award-winning books with a healthy amount of scepticism. However, it is understandable to see how Spin won the Hugo in 2006.
The novel follows several characters’ lives after the earth is enclosed in a permeable membrane that effectively ‘locks’ the planet out of time-sync with the rest of the universe. For every second that passes on earth, 3.17 years pass in the rest of the universe. Spin demonstrates clearly how fear and isolation can soon send some people ‘spinning’ out of control whilst others reach up to learn more.
Tyler, Jason and Diane are all realistically drawn characters and their feelings of confusion, regret, and loneliness in the face of things they cannot yet understand, are perfectly counterbalanced with hope, curiosity and love. To be isolated from others is a fear many of us can empathise with. Wilson merely extends this fear to the extreme, whilst highlighting the potential we each have inside to face our fears and overcome them. To learn more about each other, the world and indeed the universe we live in.
Downbelow Station, by C.J. Cherryh
People often think that science fiction is a male-dominated genre. Authors like Becky Chambers, Anne McCaffrey, Naomi Alderman, and Catherine Webb (to name but a few) would beg to differ. Cherryh’s novel, Downbelow Station, was published in 1981 and follows the lives of the people on a space station orbiting the planet ‘Pell’ during a tumultuous time in future human history.
Pell station’s inhabitants refer to their orbital behemoth as ‘Downbelow Station’ following everyone labelling Pell as ‘downbelow’. Their lives and routines are threatened when earth’s out-of-touch policies with its distant colonies and ships cause it to lose control of certain systems. In true human fashion, a fleet of 50 military carriers are built and sent to enforce the will of a planet half of humanity is no longer bothered with.
Pell station and its inhabitants become caught in the middle of a war between the earth forces and the breakaway ‘Union’. Angelo Konstantin is the stationmaster of ‘Pell’ and along with his sons Damon and Emilio, struggles to cope with the situation. Similar novels like The Martian, often draw on themes of frustration, isolation and anger over situations we have little-to-no control of.
Cherryh’s weaving story twists and turns through and around the lives of the station’s ordinary working people who are merely trying to navigate their way through a situation they have no control over.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Books like The Martian can feel epic and small at the same time. This is apparent in Le Guin’s award-winning The Left Hand of Darkness. The story follows the journey of Genly Ai, a Terran sent to the planet ‘Gethen’ as an envoy to try and persuade the disparate nations of the planet to join the Ekumen (a sort of ‘Federation’).
Ai’s complete lack of understanding of the Gethen culture and it’s ambisexual inhabitants forces him to reevaluate his own narrow views of the universe around him. It is easy to see why The Left Hand of Darkness has garnered so much attention since its initial publication in 1969. Confronting heterosexual prejudice without being preachy, the novel manages to highlight the struggles so many people in the world still face today. Being seen as ‘different’ can be terrifying. Seeing people who are different to you can appear frightening when you’re not used to them.
The Left Hand of Darkness explores fear and isolation whilst showing the reader that differences are nothing to be afraid of. Similar novels have tackled the isolation, prejudice and pain that gender fluidity and identity can bring. However, I have yet to find a contemporary novel that so gently takes you on a journey through fear, confusion, pain and eventual understanding like The Left Hand of Darkness.
The fact that Le Guin managed to do this back in 1969 is a testament both to her skill and empathetic nature. Le Guin passed away in 2018, but hopefully her books and wisdom will remain with us for years to come. Science fiction continues to offer us a way to explore the human condition in a manner that feels safe within a hostile world.
The Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffrey
Killashandra. The main protagonist’s name alone made me want to read this book when my eight-year-old self found it lurking on a shelf in my local library. The opening chapter is perfectly tuned to draw you immediately into Killashandra’s life and world as we meet her desperately trying to become a vocal soloist and fulfil her dream of interstellar stardom (X-Factor enthusiasts should take note).
When she is told a flaw in her voice will prevent her from ever being a lead soloist, Killashandra is heartbroken and does what many inexperienced young adults do, she panics. Believing that there is nothing else in the galaxy for her, she leaves both her school and home planet quietly. The last thing she wants is for her peers to see her as a failure, and it is only when she meets an older man at the spaceport that things begin to change.
When she witnesses her aural ability to detect a flaw in a ship’s crystal engines, Killashandra realises her vocal talents can be used outside of the concert halls. The planet Ballybran, home of the crystal rock used to power travel and communications across the galaxy becomes her destination. It is there that Killashandra discovers her true calling; to become a renowned crystal singer, one of a few people in the galaxy capable of extracting crystal using the sound of their voice.
The Crystal Singer is a melodic (if you’ll pardon the pun) tale, soaring and lowering through Killashandra’s peaks and troughs as she tries to navigate her way into a life she never dreamt of.
Books like The Martian can be found everywhere once you know where to look. If you enjoyed Weir’s tale of Mark Watney’s struggle to not only survive, but thrive in an alien environment, then you will definitely enjoy several, if not all of the suggestions above. Happy reading!
Are you looking for more books similar to The Martian? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!