The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When astronaut Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars, he has to rely on his wits to survive.
I was immediately attracted to the Robinson Crusoe on Mars concept - okay, so it's not a wholly original concept, but it's all in the execution after all. Weir makes Mark Watney's plight funny, smart, and scientifically credible. It's an old-fashioned adventure with a hard science edge, like the best of Arthur C. Clarke.
Watney tells most of the story through his diary, and manages to explain his plans in a way that even someone as science-challenged as me can enjoy and read through quickly (it's barely 300 pages in the e-version). It's fun to see him MacGyver food and equipment using his twin skills of botany and engineering. Plus, his down time entertainment hilariously consists solely of terrible TV shows from the 1970s, disco, and Agatha Christie novels.
How credible are Watney's attempts to make water, grow food, and figure out a way to communicate with NASA? In an interview, the author points out that "Each problem he has is caused by the solution to his previous problem" (Science Friday). Weir writes about real NASA technology (though his versions are slightly more efficient, suiting the near-future setting). The Martian was first published online chapter by chapter, nitpicked by obsessed geeks (and a few real astronauts) who helped work out the details of math, physics, and chemistry.
Caveat: there aren't many sweeping descriptions of Martian landscape in The Martian - Watney is focused on survival, not scenery. For beautiful prose, you'll have to read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Another lone survivor in space story I plan to check out is The Explorer by James Smythe. If you enjoyed the movies Gravity (scientifically flawed and undeniably thrilling) or bit your nails off watching Apollo 13, you should read this book.
"Things are finally going my way. In fact, they're going great! I have a chance to live after all!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 37
I am fucked, and I'm gonna die!" - 38
"I need some encouragement. I need to ask myself 'What would an Apollo astronaut do?'
He'd drink three whisky sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool." - 225