This is without doubt the best sci-fi book written by an independent author I’ve read so far. I really enjoyed it from start to finish. It is the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars, presumed dead and left behind by the rest of the crew. Wounded and with few resources, Mark Watney, must find a way to survive in a desert and hostile planet.
The words with which the novel opens (“I'm pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.”) delineate the tone immediately. We are faced with the irony of a character that has nothing to lose and finds in himself, also thanks to its scientific expertise, the strength to fight for his own survival.
The story starts with an assumption which is not correct, i.e. a sandstorm has forced the crew to abort the mission. This is impossible given that the Martian atmosphere is so thin that, even in case of strong winds, these are not able to cause any damage, beside covering everything with powder. But this is fiction, not reality.
With the suspension of disbelief the story begins, and from that point on it is a succession of brilliant stunts. Mark is from time to time to face new challenges and find improbable, but not impossible solutions. At the same time you follow the action on Earth, at the mission control, where at the beginning the protagonist is believed to be dead. Here, too, the irony rules. Several times I laughed out loud while reading. The dialogues are withering. Same for the diary of Mark, which is at times hilarious, almost as if the protagonist, trying to deal with fear for his condition, jokes about it, according to a custom typical of American films and TV series.
The result is a really beautiful hard sci-fi novel.
Reading the reviews, I found out that the author has published it in serial form, and only in the end he released the entire novel. I must say that considering how the story is structured, with a number of problems that arise and are resolved, it actually looks episodic, but I admit that while reading I had not realized it at all.
The excellent work of Andy Weir, apparently, has been rewarded. The book was bought by a major publishing house and will be re-released in 2014. In the meantime, it is still available as audiobook.
The Martian (audiobook) on Amazon.com.
Update (February 2014): the book is now available again.
The Martian on Amazon.com.