No one, neither Robinson Crusoe on his desert island nor Captain Bligh on his 4,000 mile voyage to safety in an open boat, has had such a life threatening adventure as Mark Watney in Andrew Weir’s accomplished novel, The Martian [London: Del Rey, 2014]. Mostly told in the first person log of the man who was left for dead by his five astronaut fellow crew men when their mission to the red planet had to be swiftly aborted in a dust storm. They saw him go down, pierced by the spike of a radio antenna and knew he couldn’t survive. Amazingly, they made it off the planet and set off on their long return voyage to Earth.
But Watney wasn’t dead. His own congealing blood sealed the leak in his space suit and when he recovered consciousness he was able to make it back to the base they had all abandoned so hastily. Now what? He has a working, habitable base that is well-supplied for six for an extended visit and so the supplies should last him six times the length of the whole crew. But they are finite, as is the oxygen. Eventually, he will starve or suffocate. The dust storm has destroyed the communications link with Earth. That means NASA believe he is dead and will not be mounting a rescue. Even if they were, his supplies would run out long before a vessel could be launched and make the journey.
Watney, however, is an engineer and a botanist and is determined to conquer these long odds. A rational man would say he didn’t have a prayer. Andy Weir, the novel’s author, has a wealth of scientific knowledge across a wide spectrum which he uses in tandem with his skill as a writer to make the story of Watney’s very long battle against the odds and the stream of setbacks an intensely gripping story.
Weir is also an enterprising businessman who self-published the first edition of The Martian on line and it came to the attention of not only the commercial publishing world but also Hollywood. And the rest is history! In the novel, you do not know whether Watney has survived until you are approaching the final page with terminal velocity. My advice is read from page one and keep going. It will grip you so tight you will feel the g-force.