The Bottom Line: It’s Cast Away on Mars, and one of the best books we’ve read all year.
We recently placed The Martian on our Best Thrillers of 2015 (So Far) list, which is quite an accomplishment for such an unusual book. This is one that breaks nearly all of the traditional conventions for not only sci-fi, but also contemporary thrillers in general.
“I’m f*cked,” the book’s narrator, astronaut Mark Watney, tells us in the opening line. It’s a fair assessment of his situation. After a terrible accident that threatened the lives of his entire crew, he was presumed dead and left on Mars.
Let’s imagine what a typical sci-fi writer might do with this material. Might Watney figure out how to get off the planet and then, in a deranged state, take revenge on his crewmates back on Earth, killing them one by one? Or might he encounter a strange alien life form on Mars and return to Earth somehow altered, infecting humanity with some terrible affliction?
Fortunately, Andy Weir didn’t take either of those routes. His hero, Mark Watney, isn’t upset at his crew whatsoever. He’s reasonable and rational, knowing that his fellow astronauts did the same thing he would have done in their position. And being an astronaut, he’s incredibly intelligent and resourceful, and what we get is essentially a science-based resource manual on how one might survive being stranded on Mars. That’s roughly the first half of the book. The second half is about his escape, which is no less detailed and believable.
Sure, some readers might grow tired of endless pages about creating soil suitable for growing potatoes on Mars, or endless details about various atmospheric or navigation-based calculations vital to Watney’s survival. But honest to God, it’s not just tense and thrilling, but also laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Check it out.