I am so far behind on reviewing that I’ve started to forget what I’ve read, although I recall a three day Courtney Milan marathon so Malin and Mrs Julien will be happy when I get round to reviewing them. First though, the best SF novel I’ve read since Anathem.
Mark Watney is one sixth of the third manned mission to Mars, and it turns out that third time is not, in fact, the charm: during evacuation six days into the mission, he is left behind, presumed dead. Fortunately, he’s dead clever, not dead dead, and he diaries his struggles to survive on our inhospitable and barren neighbour. His diary entries are interspersed with the activities of the many people who work to rescue him, once they realise he’s alive.
“What must it be like?… He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?”
Log Entry: Sol 61. How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
I had to take a little break after reading that last part, until I could breathe again and I’d stopped tearing up with laughter, and it’s by no means the only funny bit, just the one I remember the most. Watney was a wonderful character, his humour and sarcasm his only real defence against crushing despair, and the supporting cast is really well fleshed out and pleasingly varied. The pace is relentless and the plot is gripping, with all of the setbacks and disasters and triumphs one would hope for and expect in an action novel.
The science in the book is superb, with enough technical detail for me to be all nerd happy, but enough narrative explanation for it to make sense to someone without a general scientific grounding. (I think. I have one, so it’s hard to tell. But the bits I didn’t know all made sense so I’m presuming the rest of it does too.) Watney’s survival never feels guaranteed either, which is quite a feat.
The humanity of the book is its real tour-de-force though, as the reader empathises with Watney’s first-person diary entries, whilst watching the practical and ethical concerns of the team on Earth unfold. This dual narrative keeps reminding the reader of the wider concerns beyond just the survival of one man. I always cheered for him, but it made me think hard about what might happen in the real world, and what arguments would be used.
5 out of 5. This book shines as bright as Jupiter in the night sky, and has a heart as big as the Great Red Spot. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m even going to recommend it to my dad, that’s how much I love it.
Cross-posted to my blog here.