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Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, is quite simply one of the best books I’ve read in a quite a while. Simultaneously funny, suspenseful, and educational, the book tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who runs into a bit of bad luck that gets him stranded on Mars, left only with the abandoned equipment his crewmates ditched as they scrambled to escape a disastrous sand storm.
Watney’s survival of the incident is part happy-accident and part brilliance, as he employs his substantial know-how to keep himself alive and plot for his rescue. Weir feeds us the bulk of the story from Watney’s point of view, through logs of his adventure that he records for posterity. Watney is a smart-aleck but a strategic thinker and a hard worker; Weir cleverly avoids providing too much of Watney’s backstory, instead letting the situation inform us about the man stuck on Mars.
The action of the novel is gripping, as Watney encounters obstacle after obstacle that he must overcome in true MacGyverian fashion, using only the very limited man-made materials he has on hand. As he approaches each, the reader gets a chance to learn about another aspect of science or engineering or critical analysis that is strengthened by Weir’s dedication to keeping the science real.
Watney’s fight for survival is like reading the world’s geekiest suspense novel. He isn’t trying to outrun the bad guy or catch the criminal – he’s trying to use his knowledge of engineering and botany to rig a cross-Mars road trip out of spare space station parts and a few modified water and oxygen systems. It’s science fiction exhibiting plausibility – the kind of novel I knew immediately would be made into a movie. Which it will be, starring Matt Damon. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in hearing a great new voice on the science fiction scene. And if you are skeptical about science fiction, this might be the book to change your mind.