This is a survival story of one man against all odds. Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars when he is caught in a dust storm, his suit breached, and his crew forced to leave him behind when his vitals register negative. With communication equipment down and limited resources available, Mark must find a way to survive for years until the next mission’s arrival.
Real, often painstaking scientific theory produces an authenticity to this story that’s unmatched, with a equal mix of ingenuity and long hours of hard work. When Mark actually uses his training to overcome nearly hopeless complications over and over again, you root for him to make it another sol. When Mark makes a stupid joke in his log to stave off insanity, you root for him to actually make it home. Mark’s sense of humor is crass, but it delivers an unmistakable tension relief when we need it most, and he’s all the more real of a character for it.
If I may, this book was a lot like the 2013 Academy Award Winner film Gravity, in that it’s a survival story not on Earth. While that film was inspiring visually, Sandra Bullock’s character lacked any real credibility because she didn’t behave like an astronaut. She wasn’t smart or resourceful, and she lost her shit way too often. Mark Watney, on the other hand, is a character who displays ingenious capability and understated bravery with a few smart-ass comments along the way. So he’s a little like MacGyver on Mars.
For me, this is what the best science fiction has to offer. It’s 1) about science, and 2) the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and ultimate optimism of the human spirit, whether by a single man or the species as a collective. I loved this book!
“Once I got home, I sulked for a while. All my brilliant plans foiled by thermodynamics. Damn you, Entropy!”