Set in a hopefully not too distant future, humans are sending manned missions to Mars. This is the story of one man, Mark Watney, who got to spend more time than he expected on the desolate, deadly planet. Alone.
Watney was part of a team that landed on Mars and erected a habitat. Unfortunately, Mars kicked up a sandstorm that threatened their ability to leave in the future, so the captain ordered an emergency abort to the mission. As they made their way from the habitat through the sandstorm to the escape vessel, equipment came lose, slamming into Watney and sweeping him off into the sandstorm. His vital readings went dead and his crew was forced to abandon his body. Later, safely aboard their orbiting ship, they wept. Watney woke up and took stock of things. And the odds were definitely not in his favor. But through determination, an inability to give up hope, and, dare I say it, boredom, Watney comes up with a plan that may or may not get him off Mars…..eventually.
This has been one of the best hard science fiction novels I have had the pleasure to read in some years. Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. He’s the guy who fixes stuff when it breaks and also does the plant experiments. He also swears a lot. Right off, I wanted to be his best friend. Watney was easy to connect with and immediately I was sucked into his story and I wanted him to beat all the odds and safely make it home to Earth.
Mars itself was like a character. We got to know her whims and moods, her terrain and climate. She had a myriad of ways she attempted to snuff the puny human known as Mark Watney off the face of the planet. Indeed, there were times Watney outright cursed Mars. I really love it when the setting becomes so integral to the story, shaping the plot. That’s exactly how it went with this tale.
Of course, it’s not just Mars gunning for Watney. Nope. There are a fair share of attempts by that pesky thing called Human Error. It was bound to happen, both on Mars by Watney and back home on Earth by NASA as they attempt to rescue Watney. Honestly, there were so many reasons why Watney would not survive this book, I truly did not know until the very end whether he would or not.
So not only do we have Watney’s tale, but we also have his crew on their ship (which is returning to Earth) and the folks back home at NASA. While this story is primarily Watney’s tale, he’s not alone and we get to see how all these people pull together to attempt to save him, a lone man on a foreign planet. Watching how this giant team of folks struggled to assist Watney was great. There’s a little bit of politicking, but mostly just people starting off with ‘It’s not possible!’ and going to ‘We’ll damn well find a way!’.
While Watney’s struggle is a persistent background throughout, there is also humor. Watney has it and definitely needs it in order to survive the ordeal. Much of the story is told through his daily log entries and often it is just us readers who get to hear Watney’s jokes. The humor lightened the mood but also made the death traps much more serious.
I’ve read that other people found the technical bits a little daunting. This is hard science fiction and the story is told by scientists all around. So, yes, there are plenty of measurements and technical babble here and there as Watney tries to figure out how to survive on Mars. As a biologist, this aspect of the story really gave it weight, letting me know that the author took his own work seriously. I truly liked it as this showed how important science was to the story.
When I finished this book, I literally hugged it.
Narration: R. C. Bray is a very talented man. He had this perfect voice for Watney, no matter his mood or circumstance. There were a few foreign accents as well (German, Chinese, Indian) and he did all of these smoothly. His female character voices were quite believable. Watney, and others, go through several different emotions throughout this story and Bray did a great job of getting those emotions across to the listener.