All accolades for this debut novel are deserved. Science takes a front seat in this novel as the bulk of the story is told in chronologic mission logs by a marooned astronaut/botanist on Mars.
The story opens on Mark Watney realizing that he’s missed the emergency launch of his Ares 3 team’s escape vessel–he’s been left for dead. From there, he needs to figure out how to heal and survive until he can communicate with–anybody. He’s on his own with little to no help, atmosphere, food or water. He trudges forward on pure ingenuity and humor:
Mars is not Earth. It doesn’t have a thick atmosphere to bend light and carry particles that reflect light around corners. It’s damn near a vacuum here. Once the sun isn’t visible, I’m in the dark. Phobos gives me some moonlight, but not enough to work with. Deimos is a little piece of crap that’s no good to anyone.
Later, two new POVs reveal how mission control on Earth and the other five surviving Ares 3 crew members act and react in the face of what has happened on Mars. As much as Watney may be helpless on Mars, they are helpless to help him.
. . . every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.
If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.
The best of humanity in the worst of circumstances owns the heart of this highly recommended work of speculative fiction.
[Check out my other reviews here.]