No spoilers ahead
“I’m pretty much fucked,” is how Andy Weir’s sci-fi novel begins. And it pretty much holds steady as such throughout the book.
Astronaut Mark Watney is part of the third manned-mission to Mars, but he gets left behind on the red planet and must find a way to not only survive, but try to communicate with NASA a million miles away.
Weir apparently has a background in science and that shows through in this book, as everything (to my uninitiated mind) seems scientifically legitimate. As if this could be our reality in another decade or two. The plot moves along through Watney’s “sol” diary — a sol is one Mars day — and as such, it reads almost like a personal blog. It helps to not only develop Watney’s personality, but to let the reader in on his thought process to survive.
Everything flows from something else, logically. It’s not like Weir is just throwing out random nonsense to fuck with Watney. It’s like, oh yeah, I guess that would happen after he did X, then Y, and oh wow, he hadn’t considered Z. The book really ramps up and takes a turn into the suspenseful once NASA actually learns he’s still alive. Then it becomes a race to keep Watney alive on both ends.
It’s beautiful because of all humanity comes together to ensure this happens. Billions of dollars are spent. Thousands of hours of work and expertise are used. And it’s all to save this man millions of miles from Earth. In that sense, the book unfurls the human spirit and stretches it beyond our earthly bounds. Not only in the intimate way of Watney’s sol diary and his bid for survival, but in the collective goodwill of humanity.
And Mars makes for a formidable antagonist. Space in general is hostile to life and Mars in particular wants to kill you in any way possible and it sure tries with Watney throughout the book.
I’m not a huge sci-fi reader, but I appreciated this book for how grounded it is. There’s nothing that seems too beyond the realm of possibility. And I think that’s the true essence of sci-fi. It extrapolates from just around and/or beyond the margins of real-life possibilities.
There’s a film adaptation coming out with Matt Damon and a host of other great actors. I would probably recommend not viewing the trailer, however, as it’s one of those trailers that gives away too much.