This is going to be a hard book to top for me this year. I LOVED The Martian! I haven’t read science fiction in many decades, but I’m an old aficionado from my early years, and this book had me panting with excitement and anticipation throughout. Some have compared The Martian to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and while I can fully understand the comparison, I much prefer the image of a Martian MacGyver, for those of you who remember the television show from the late eighties.
Mark Watney is the engineer and botanist on a six-person crew that has just landed on Mars as the third in a series of five or more such planned missions. This one, however, gets aborted shortly after landfall due to a sandstorm more ferocious than any encountered which threatens their equipment, their survival and their return to Earth. So they get the abort notice, but not before Watney gets impaled on a flying strut from the collapsing communications antenna and disappears into the storm. His crew is forced to leave him behind, but Watney survives against all odds. With no way to communicate, with a limited supply of food, water, and energy, Watney is still facing a horrible death. As the first line of his first log entry states colorfully and unequivocally, “I’m pretty much f—ked!”
But using all smarts, Watney begins to do what he does best: problem solve. With a combination of scientific know-how, outside-the-box ingenuity, and a delightful sense of humor, Watney’s log entries which comprise the bulk of the book bring us feet first into his world and we root for him against all odds. And odds there are a’plenty. His attempts to generate water by splitting oxygen and hydrogen cause an explosion that nearly destroys his habitat …and him. He briefly manages to create a form of communication with Earth, giving him the human connection he craves and a modicum of hope of rescue, but that communication is lost again. And so on.
What I loved best about this book, the author’s first, is that it is totally believable! I guess there are some astrophysicists out there who may detect some inconsistencies, exaggerations, and perhaps outright fictions in Weir’s writing, but he has clearly taken a great deal of time and effort to know his subject, and the science behind the creativity and the wit that is our hero makes for an absolute winner in my book.