New York: Crown, c2014.
Now that everyone** seems to be talking about The Martian, I should weigh in as well! I just read this, very quickly, and enjoyed myself from the very first line, a eye-catching one indicative of what is to come.
Mark Watney, astronaut, is one of the very first people to walk on Mars. But he is currently turning the Red Planet’s atmosphere blue, in his very vocal alarm -- he is upset both by the fact that his mission to Mars has been suddenly aborted, and that while evacuating the surface his team thinks he’s been killed by flying debris, and leaves without him.
What does a botanist and mechanical engineer do, facing the task of solitary survival for the next four years, until the next Mars mission arrives? Fortunately for Mark, he is a creative and resourceful scientist. He calls upon every bit of knowledge he has ever encountered (along with some disco and vintage Agatha Christie to stay sane) and builds his own survival strategies. A lot of the detail right at the start, as Mark tries to create water and plant potatoes, is a bit overwhelming in its particularity, fact on fact on fact. But once the action really kicks in, it's a very quick read; rather like “MacGyver on Mars”.
This story is an entertaining combination of adventure, pure scientific ingenuity, space exploration, and humour. Mark finds a way to communicate with NASA, on a patchy basis, and they make a plan for his rescue. Unfortunately for NASA, the fact that they’ve left a live astronaut behind on Mars gets leaked to the media; in the ensuing frenzy, we also see the desperation on Earth as people across the world follow Mark’s every move.
It's a great science fiction novel, full of lots of hard science of interest to space fanatics, along with a fun character with a dark sense of humour that stands him in good stead in his extreme situation. There is also a good sense of the teamwork involved in space travel, as both NASA ground control and Mark’s team, now on their way back to Earth, engage in numerous strategies to ensure his rescue.
There were a few flaws in the reading, but overall a fun, plot-based novel, if you are fine with characters who don't develop too much, and are able to suspend your disbelief long enough to get into the narrative. If you don’t mind sarcasm and strong language, and enjoy the triumph of creative survival over harsh odds, you’ll love this, even if you think you don’t like science fiction. Recommended for its strong setting and fast-paced plot, tempered by humour.
see Andi's review, in which she states that "If you're looking for a book that will suck you in straight away and keep you engaged, this is the one!"
see Bookfool's review, and her quote of the fabulously funny first line