© 2013 Andy Weir
I was elated! This was the best plan ever! Not only was I clearing out the hydrogen, I was making more water!
Everything went great right up to the explosion.
The Martian is easily the most entertaining science fiction novel I’ve read, a story of relentless problem-solving and dogged humor. It’s not Mark’s story alone — Weir occasionally zooms back to Earth as NASA tries to cope, and he occasionally shifts to a third-person narrative when something colossally bad is about to happen to our stubborn survivor — but most of The Martian is told, journal-form, recording Mark’s reactions, plans, and thoughts on life so far from humanity. He is never free from worry; no sooner has he found to solve a problem by physics, chemistry, botany, or setting something on fire, than does something else go wrong. Sometimes solutions create their own problems, because his resources are limited and not even an engineer-botanist can think of everything. Add to that the fact that Mars is an environment hostile to human life, a severe place that punishes mistakes with death (freezing, exploding, starving, take your pick), and there’s no end to his troubles. But he never stops trying, and he never becomes dispirited permanently. There’s no one on the planet to have a pity party with, and nothing to do but try to put the pieces back together again and move on. Eventually the story widens; Mark can’t communicate with Earth, but they do have satellites, and the only bit of life on the entire planet can’t avoid being noticed forever. If he can only find a way to endure! Despite the seriousness of his situation, the narrative is easy-going, almost light-hearted. Mark is keeping logs to keep track of his progress and maintain his sanity, not give an audience a respectable tale of man vs. the elements. He records in detail his thinking about wrangling technical problems, but he’s also constantly joking or complaining or chattering.. (“I tested the brackets by hitting them with rocks. This kind of sophistication is what we interplanetary scientists are known for.”) Part of the appeal of The Martian is the fact that, though this is science-fiction, it’s not far removed from contemporary technology; the people in this novel don’t need any background, because they’re us. This is an immensely personable science-adventure story, abounding in puzzles and smart remarks. It’s quite impressive considering it’s Andy Weir’s first work, and I would definitely recommend it, especially to those with any interest at all in space flight.
“[The laptop] died instantly. The screen went black before I was out of the outlock. Turns out the ‘L’ in ‘LCD’ stands for ‘Liquid’. I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll have to post a consumer review: ‘Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10’.”
“Founding Father“, Isaac Asimov. Also about astronauts trying to survive in a hostile world after things go badly.