Have you ever felt like you were the only one on the planet to do something? For botanist astronaut Mark Watney, this is a reality for everything he does. Abandoned by the rest of his crew during an unforeseen dust storm, Watney is stranded on Mars after his team fled, thinking it too late to save him. Completely isolated from the rest of humanity, Watney has to figure out not only how to survive, but also how to get back home.
This book is, at its core, a man-versus-nature story, with nature being the Mars atmosphere. Watney must figure out how to grow food in a freezing cold environment with no soil, water, or even seeds to propagate. He has to figure out how to get from one place to another with enough oxygen to keep breathing. Once contact is again made with Earth (I promise that’s not a spoiler), he must figure out how to maintain that contact and work with people on a different planet who sometimes seem more interested in press photos than his survival. And probably Watney’s biggest challenge is that he has to maintain his sanity with his only source of escapism coming from music and TV shows left by a crew member who had a strong affinity for the 70’s.
Sound like another geeky science fiction book? Think again. This book has great mainstream appeal with laugh-out-loud humor and characters that are easy to relate to. Don’t let this dissuade the true sci-fi fans out there though either, for author Andy Weir speaks with enough believable authority on space terms and technical details—and don’t forget about all the math calculations—to satisfy even scrutinizing nerds. And while he may openly rename a scientific unit of measurement as “pirate ninja,” the protagonist is a genuine space pirate and therefore his authority to take such liberties should be respected by scholarly critics.
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to, given that it is outside of my normal reading genre. I found it highly entertaining and easy to follow. The reader of the audio version does a great job of distinguishing between the characters and giving you an almost palpable image of Mark Watney. While I would recommend this book to a wide range of readers, I particularly plan to recommend it to young male, hesitant readers who have trouble getting into a good book.
People who enjoy this book might also enjoy Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Both sci-fi books have quick-witted male protagonists who are competing in a large-scale challenge. Both stories are also laced with retro pop culture references that are sure to appeal to the good-humored sentimentalist.