"I'm pretty much fucked," Mark Watney says in the first line of Andy Weir's thriller The Martian, and that just about sums it up. Watney is an astronaut, and he's just been left for dead on the surface of Mars after a chaotic accident, with no way to get home. But Watney was put on the mission in part due to his remarkable problem-solving abilities, and he immediately gets to work trying to survive.
The Martian is currently enjoying a moment of fame; word of mouth has propelled the book onto bestseller lists and kept it there. I'm sure the PR department in charge of promoting the book collectively wet themselves when Gravity became such a box office phenomenon last fall, because nobody could have predicted that popular culture would have room for two narratives about abandoned astronauts. But it turns out that The Martian scratches a very different itch than Gravity. It's relentlessly technical—Watney is a big math nerd—and while Gravity was a thriller that unfolded in more or less real time, Watney has to use his cunning to stay alive for months, until a rescue mission can be mustered and sent for him.
In a blurb on the back of The Martian, real-life astronaut Chris Hadfield praises the book's "fascinating technical accuracy." I'll have to take his word for it, but Weir definitely makes everything sound realistic. This is not a book that's going to win awards for the quality of its prose—the language is there to propel the plot, and not much more—but it'll keep you turning pages well past your bedtime. I was totally invested in Watley's story, and the way Weir mercilessly throws problems in his way on every page, like an impetuous Old Testament God, is intoxicating. Those who enjoyed the techno-thrillers of Michael Crichton will likely find a new patron saint in Weir.