by Andrew Weir
What would you do if you saw your crewmate, one-sixth of the Ares 3 expedition to Mars, swept away by an array of antennae during a violent, mission-aborting sandstorm, and his life-signs went flat, and his suit depressurized, and you have to get off the planet now or it’s going to be never?
Yeah, you’d probably take off without him, even though his freakish luck means he is not a rapidly-dessicating self-monument to the first human death on Mars, but some sort of futuristic Robinson Crusoe, left behind on a planet with no water, no atmosphere, and only a month’s worth of survival gear and no ticket home.
The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, whose incredible reserves of luck and problem-solving capacity are dwarfed by his wise-ass attitude and absolute refusal to see any obstacle as insurmountable. This is hard science fiction at its hardest – the author categorically refuses to provide Watney with any sort of deus ex machina to take him out of his predicament. His only chance is to survive, solo, on the surface of Mars for a couple of years, then traverse a few thousand miles across the surface to where the scheduled Ares 4 mission may be able to give him a ride home.
Presented mostly as Watney’s journal, with the occasional cut back to Earth where NASA realizes the scope of the situation and does their best to assist their stranded astronaut, The Martian is a non-stop blaze of destruction and survival, but what makes it shine is Mark Watney, without a doubt the best botanist on the planet, and the sort of right-stuff achiever that throws a hissy fit only once or twice, and then only after some mind-numbing “he’s-well-and-truly-fucked-now” escapades.
It’s been a while since I read a page-turner like The Martian. The writing is direct, the characters are well-developed without taking away from the brutal uncaring physics of this universe, and the science is frighteningly solid. Weir is not just pulling ideas out of a sci-fi hat, but giving you measurements, reactants, and the occasional explosive gotcha that leaves you marveling how Mark Watney is going to survive the surprising number of pages left in this book.
Of course, a film version is in the works, scheduled for release near the end of the year. You have a couple of months to set aside the few days it’ll take you to get through The Martian. Mark Watney had to survive on the surface of Mars for ten times as long, and only got to take the occasional radioactive-powered jacuzzi to relax.