I'm stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I'm dead. I'm in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days.
If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I'm fucked.
Thus concludes the first chapter of Andy Weir's The Martian, in which astronaut Mark Watney, presumed dead, is left behind during a sandstorm and must somehow find a way to survive on Mars' perilous surface until Earth 1) discovers he is alive and 2) somehow arranges for his rescue.
Fair warning: this is diamond hard science fiction, and as such, technical details are discussed at length. Unlike some reviewers, however, I wasn't annoyed by said details. On the contrary, I found it fascinating to learn exactly what it takes to generate a breathable atmosphere, collect sufficient potable water, and grow food plants on a planet that has none of these things. It was also interesting to learn how long it would take to send men to Mars -- and how much planning would be required before embarking on such a mission.
Moreover, it helps that Weir's protagonist is a really likable guy. Most of the story is told using Watney's personal logs, and the voice that emerges is one that, in a way, reminds me of my own father's. Like Dad, Watney primarily uses gallows humor to battle his fear. When he's not ruminating over his "Mark Watney Doesn't Die" project, he's musing about the Cubs, bitching about his mission commander's poor taste in entertainment, or complaining about his boring diet. And yes -- I laughed. Despite Watney's constantly being in mortal danger, I laughed out loud at the first person passages and the way certain things were phrased.
And overall, I found Weir's view of humanity deeply inspiring. Beyond Watney's resourcefulness and pluck, we also see people on Earth - and on the Hermes - drawing on what is best in themselves and accomplishing great things. As soon as Earth learns of Watney's plight, people sacrifice their comfort and their sleep to bring him back -- and in the meantime, NASA receives international help from a startling source. I won't spoil the story and tell you whether these efforts succeed; I will tell you, though, that the level of cooperation involved actually made me cry.
Is The Martian Human Wave? You betcha! It's also a "man versus the elements" story on steroids and, in the end, a damn good book.
Final Verdict: Highly Recommended