I read this book during my last few days at home over the winter break, and it’s been sticking in my head ever since. So, in the interest of productivity (getting it out of my head), here’s a quick review:
Okay, I can be a little more specific than that. I particularly recommend The Martian to my fellow nerds; anyone with an interest in engineering, space, physics, NASA, botany (seriously), or science in general will probably enjoy this book. That really sells it short, though. I don’t want to drive off anyone who would hesitate to pick up a “nerd book,” especially if it can be a gateway drug (as it were) to more interest in science.
Here’s the setup: Humanity has finally gotten its act together and sent manned missions to Mars. When an accident leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded on the planet without adequate food, unable to contact anyone else, and presumed dead by his crewmates, he is forced to use his science smarts, technical know-how, and tolerance for boredom to survive, keeping a log along the way.
In some ways, it’s the ultimate nerd-hero novel: all those hours spent learning botany, chemistry, physics, engineering, and (most importantly) problem-solving skills pay off as Watney figures out how to transform Martian dirt into viable growing soil, increase his water reserves, rig up communications, and so on. He takes the reader through many of the relevant calculations, too (Weir really shows his work here), which lends some really cool verisimilitude to the story. We also get a look at the Earth side of things, as well as the perspective of the other astronauts on the mission, and their improvisational and technical skills are shown to be superb as well.
What really makes the book, however, is the wonderfully idiosyncratic voice that Weir gives Watney throughout the story. His wry wit, unabashed immaturity at serious moments, and sheer determination are what elevate the story from an interesting premise (marooned on Mars!) to a genuinely gripping read.