The Martian by Andy Weir (Crown, Feb. 11, 2013)-Mark Watney is an engineer and a botanist. He’s also, fortunately, a guy who has a great sense of humor and is naturally optimistic. He’s gonna need that humor and that optimism, because he’s been stranded on Mars after a dust storm leaves him with a punctured suit and a crew that can only assume he’s dead. His crew is devastated and must leave the planet, but, of course, Andy is stuck on Mars with no hope of rescue for a very long time, no way to communicate with Earth, not enough food to last (but with enough disco music to last a lifetime, and plenty of Three’s Company reruns)…you get the idea. Most of the story is told in journal entries by Mark, and it’s through these that I got hooked. Hopelessly, completely hooked. In fact, I suggest that you set aside an afternoon for this one, because you won’t want to put it down.
Ok, so, one of the most terrifying scenarios I can think of has happened to our protagonist, a protagonist that is so immensely likeable it’s ridiculous, and I mean that in the best way. Eventually, Mark is able to communicate with NASA and his plight becomes a national obsession. It takes a long time to figure out how to get Mark home, and even then, it’s a longshot. In the meantime, Mark has to use every bit of knowledge and know-how at his disposal to survive. He journals everything in detail and if you love science, you’ll be in heaven, and even if science is a bit intimidating to you, this book makes it fascinating. The author does a wonderful job of conveying Mark’s unenviable plight without ever making things dark. Bad things do happen, but it’s Mark’s resilience in the face of an unimaginably awful situation that not only makes it more harrowing, but also makes you desperately want him to make it. This book is very reminiscent of Apollo 13, obviously, but is in a league all its own. The conclusion had me in knots. I haven’t been that on-the-edge-of-my-seat, nail bitingly anxious about a book in a very long time, and it’s rare that once I finish a book, I want to run out the front door, waving it in the air, yelling for everyone to buy it. But yeah, it’s one of those. Not to mention that the author has done a wonderful thing here: he’s taken some pretty hard science and made it very, very accessible to everyone! That’s pretty special, at least to me, and I would also encourage parents to hand this one off to teens who may be a little intimidated by science, because it does what a lot of science classes don’t do. It tells you EXACTLY how the science is applicable in real world (and very exciting) scenarios. This book is great. It just is. Read it!