Andy Weir’s 2014 novel The Martian didn’t seem destined for success at first. Weir originally self-published the story on his personal blog, then placed it for sale as an eBook for 99 cents. But sales were so strong—the book sold 35,000 copies in six months—agents and publishers began contacting him, and when the novel was republished by Random House and became a bestseller, it was eventually adapted into a hit film starring Matt Damon in 2015.
Holding everything together is the character of Mark Watney, the stranded astronaut who must figure out how to survive on a barren planet tens of millions of miles away from his home. Watney’s funny, knowledgeable, and honest commentary about his predicament makes the science easy to digest and the danger he’s in feel very, very real. If you’re looking for similar reading experiences—whether it’s the adventure, the speculative aspects, or Watney’s sharp wit—here are 10 books that offer similar pleasures.
1. Artemis, by Andy Weir
If you finished reading The Martian and found yourself wishing it had just a touch more of a speculative aspect, Weir’s 2017 follow-up might be the ideal choice for you. Artemis is set in 2080 and imagines that the Moon has a permanent settlement on it, a collection of domes housing a small human population. Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is a young woman scratching out a living in a lunar society marked by economic inequality and crushing debt. She makes her living in various sketchy ways, and when she’s hired to do quick sabotage for a corporate client, things go sideways fast.
Weir ratchets up the sci-fi quotient while keeping things relatively realistic. His Moon colony is plausible while still being a marvelous work of imagination, and he grounds everything with the solid research and scientific background that made his debut so memorable. Artemis is also a thrilling heist story at heart, just as The Martian was a thrilling survival story, giving it some of the same mixed-genre charm. Weir’s second book manages the rare achievement of offering a familiar style without feeling like a retread.
2. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
If you finished The Martian and found yourself wishing that Mark Watney had been sent fresh supplies and encouraged to continue his horticultural experiments on the red planet, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) is the ticket. Robinson adheres to similarly plausible sci-fi elements—all the technology in the books either exists or is within the realm of possibility—and uses them to tell an exciting and surprisingly dramatic story about transforming Mars into a habitable planet for human colonists.
Terraforming an entire planet is an immense undertaking, and Robinson doesn’t shy away from detailing exactly how scientists, engineers, and other experts might tackle something that dangerous and complex. The genius of the story is how Robinson mines tension and drama from those challenges, resulting in a story that you’ll find engrossing if your favorite part of The Martian didn’t involve Mark Watney calculating oxygen yields for his potato farming.
3. Arkwright, by Allen Steele
In Steele’s 2016 novel, Nathan Arkwright, a famous science fiction writer in the 20th century, chooses to use his fortune to launch a project designed to save humanity from a doomed and dying Earth. The project ultimately spans centuries, identifying a distant world that might support life and designing a ship to travel there. Arkwright and his project echo Isaac Asimov’s Hari Seldon and the Foundation series in both its goal of saving human civilization and the scale of its story—but it also echoes Weir’s book in its approach to practical science and the sense of the unknown as a final generation sets off in a ship using microwave beam technology to travel light years toward a completely unknowable fate.
Arkwright doesn’t have the same tight focus as Weir; it follows generations of characters as the project slowly takes shape instead of just one man. But when the Arkwrighters solve problems, they use the same nuts and bolts approach as Mark Watney does while trying to survive on Mars. Steele’s story shares the same spirit of practical solutions, only applied to a broader vision—the survival of humanity as a whole instead of one individual.
4. One Way, by S.J. Morden
Like The Martian, Morden’s One Way combines two genres, offering all the pleasures of mundane sci-fi as well as a well-constructed murder mystery. Architect Frank Kittridge is serving a life sentence for murder when he’s recruited into a mission to build a permanent base on Mars. There’s one hitch: It’s a one-way trip. The eight criminals will build the base for the scientists and astronauts to follow, but there’s no way to come home. Kittridge accepts, and the early stages of the novel echo the fun of Mark Watney’s survival work as the group trains for and then struggles against a truly alien world.
Then the murders begin, and the story accelerates into a thrilling mystery that recalls some of Agatha Christie’s best work. If you read The Martian and wondered what it might have been like if Mark Watney had to deal with competing personalities while trapped on Mars, One Way will scratch that itch.
5. Gunpowder Moon, by David Pedreira
Pedreira’s novel is set in 2072; humanity has a permanent presence on the Moon in the form of a vast network of mining colonies. The Moon’s harsh conditions, with instant death lurking around every corner, has forced everyone in the colonies to bond despite national or ethnic differences, and when a series of terrorist attacks begins to splinter that camaraderie, former soldier Caden Dechert launches a desperate investigation to salvage a place he’s come to regard as his true home.
Like The Martian, Gunpowder Moon puts the inhospitable environment of its setting front and center. Every character is very much aware that all that separates them from death is some metal, glass, and finite supplies from Earth. Every decision is calculated against that reality, and the extremes of the Moon—in terms of temperature, light, and gravity—play into every scene. Just like Weir, Pedreira manages to make his extraterrestrial setting come alive and feel very realistic—and very dangerous.
6. Moonfall, by Jack McDevitt
The motivating energy of The Martian is survival. You can’t help but warm to Mark Watney’s wry, self-deprecating personality, and so you cheer for him to avoid the certain doom of being accidentally left behind on Mars, a place with exactly zero of the things humans need to survive. Experiencing his smart, courageous reaction to disaster is both inspiring and entertaining.
McDevitt’s 1998 Moonfall leans further into the disaster aspect but parallels Weir’s story in the way human beings put their heads together to solve immense problems. When a comet headed straight for the Moon is spotted, Earth’s lunar base has to be evacuated. But the impact will shatter the Moon, raining extinction-level death down on Earth. As in The Martian, politicians and scientists have to work together to somehow avoid the apocalypse, overcoming very realistic limitations. In other words, if you want The Martian but bigger, this is a perfect choice.
7. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories fixed up into a novel. A classic of science fiction, it takes a much different approach to the idea of living on Mars. But if you loved the idea of overcoming the natural limitations of surviving on an alien planet, this is a perfect choice for your next read.
Bradbury’s episodic story is much more sci-fi, imagining a future where humanity must flee an Earth ruined by nuclear war and colonize Mars out of desperate necessity. But just as Weir focused on Mark Watney’s humanity—his loneliness, his exhaustion, his anger—to make his story affecting, Bradbury masterfully does the same, but from the opposite perspective. Weir’s vision of humanity (viewed through Watney and the people working desperately to rescue him at home) is ultimately optimistic, showing how the human spirit can triumph. Bradbury explores humanity’s tendency towards destruction and wonders explicitly if even a fresh start on another planet would actually solve anything.
8. Saturn Run, by John Sandford and Ctein
For some, the key attraction of The Martian is Mark Watney. The main character’s darkly humorous take on his bleak situation is entertaining and makes it easy for the reader to connect with his incredible situation. But for others, the real fun of the book is the international scramble to figure out how to rescue him. The story of scientists, engineers, and politicians coming together to figure out the greatest rescue mission of all time is thrilling.
It’s a trick Saturn Run replicates. When an object is spotted near Saturn—an object that decelerates in a way that only a spaceship might do—both the United States and China launch competing missions to investigate. The American mission is typical: Despite lavish funding, it encounters endless problems as technology fails and personalities clash. But at its core, this is a story of frail human beings surrounded by a deadly, uncaring universe and working hard not to die, and that will appeal to fans of Weir’s work.
9. Finches of Mars, by Brian W. Aldiss
Aldiss is a master of the sci-fi form, and his 2013 novel (one of his last) takes the same themes as Weir’s book and explores them from a much higher altitude. In the future, a series of Mars bases have been built, but the colonists experience a perplexing and heartbreaking problem: All children conceived on Mars are stillborn.
Admittedly, Aldiss doesn’t bother with scientific realism here. Mars has been terraformed but there’s no detail as to how this was accomplished. Instead, he’s interested in exploring the question of survival not on the individual level but the species level, telling a parallel story of a distant Earth wracked by war and disaster. Finches of Mars is a deeper dive than Weir’s book, with a more literary and less adventure-novel sensibility, but the shared theme of solving a scientific problem in order to survive links both works.
10. 2001, A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
While Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel is much more speculative than Weir’s and offers a very different tone and style, it’s an ideal bookend. Where The Martian presents a universe where science and engineering—where knowledge—can and will solve every problem, Clarke offers a universe where technology has advanced far beyond our own (even more than 50 years after its publication) but is insufficient. The dueling philosophies in these stories make it almost seem like they were meant to be read and compared.
Clarke’s 2001, A Space Odyssey focuses on the discovery of a mysterious black monolith on the Moon, beaming a signal towards one of Saturn’s moons. A mission is sent to Saturn, but the astronauts encounter unexpected problems when they begin to suspect the artificial intelligence that runs their ship, the HAL 9000, is malfunctioning. It’s a much more somber and less humorous story, but after the thrill of Mark Watney bending the environment of Mars to his will, it’s a sobering and necessary reminder that there is much in the universe we simply do not—and likely will not ever—understand.