If you’ve read even the first line of Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” the sci-fi thriller novel that became an Oscar-nominated film last year, you know that it’s not exactly the kind of book that would fly through a school-board litmus test.
“I’m pretty much f*cked,” the book begins. “That’s my considered opinion. F*cked.”
And yet as Weir told me in an interview right before the movie came out, the book about an astronaut who has to survive on Mars after being accidentally left behind by his crew, which has been lauded by NASA officials for its scientific accuracy, is potentially a great teaching tool. (Though he certainly didn’t write it with that in mind.)
The book “presents word problems, effectively,” Weir told me. “Teachers can say, ‘Read to this point and stop. Your homework is to solve this problem [the main character] has.’ It turns out to be a good study aid there. There’s lots of math that isn’t that complicated—some is, but some can be good for algebra-level math and science.”
As the New York Times recently reported, Broadway Books released a classroom-friendly edition of the book last year, and more than 30,000 copies have been printed. The cleaned-up version uses words like “screwed” and “crap” rather than their more profane counterparts. It also includes discussion questions, activities, and a Q&A with Weir.
There’s obviously an argument to be made for just having students read the original version of “The Martian.” The curse words are certainly an effective means of conveying the protagonist’s character and the magnitude of his predicament (you know, being left alone on Mars). And they add levity to the potentially overwhelming amount of science material.
But as the Times notes, “For Mr. Weir and his publisher, getting the book into schools opens up a lucrative new market that could turn ‘The Martian,’ which was already a blockbuster that sold several million copies, into a perennial best seller that guarantees a built-in audience every year.”
Weir did, as the Times says, lobby to keep some of the less offensive swear words in the new version. But overall, ensuring more science and math students could read the book was important to him. “I am going to push for it,” he told me in 2015, of developing a classroom-friendly edition. “Every teacher everywhere in the universe throughout all time is trying to get kids into STEM. This is a good way to present science in an interesting way kids will like.”
Image: Author Andy Weir discusses “The Martian” at a launch event for the movie in 2015. —Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP
You may also want to read: ‘The Martian’ Is Full of Math Word Problems, Says Andy Weir
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.