Following an aborted Mars mission, NASA astronaut Mark Watney is left behind. His team think he’s dead. He has no way of communicating with them or with Earth The next mission to Mars is over 4 years away. Its proposed landing site is thousands of kilometres away. But all of that pales in significance beside the more immediate problem – Mark will run out of food long before the next mission arrives and will starve to death.
He has a limited amount of supplies and has to figure out how he can use them in a way that will sustain his life, taking each day as it comes and hoping that a solution to what seems like a completely impossible, hopeless task. He seems doomed to fail and die alone on Mars. But the ways that he finds to survive in such a bleak and inhospitable environment are ingenious. He continues to defy expectations and relies pretty much entirely on his own logic and common sense to carry on.
Be warned, there is a lot of technical detail about the systems for life support in Mark’s makeshift home, and a lot of maths and scientific detail as he attempts to work out how he can survive! I didn’t understand a fair few of the finer points, but it didn’t take anything away from the reading – as long as Mark understood it, that’s all that matters!
The logistical ways that Mark survives form a large part of the plot, but what I found most interesting was the emotional toll that the ordeal exacts on him as a person. For the most part, there are no other characters present for Mark to bounce off, so he records the passing of time through a log.
The author does a fantastic job of showing how being alone for that length of time affects Mark – he swings from optimism and excitement over the smallest of successes to extreme lows as he battles depression, isolation and malnutrition. He has very limited entertainment and immerses himself in work to fill the time, but occasionally things get on top of him and problems seem insurmountable.
I think this book is also a testament to the strength of the character that Andy Weir has created in Mark. Although there are some sections where we find out what’s happening on Earth, for the most part, ‘The Martian’ is told through just one voice. Despite this, I was completely gripped the whole way through. Mark is witty and entertaining, and by the end, I was really rooting for him as he continued to come up against obstacle after obstacle.
In many ways it’s a classic castaway story, but the barren landscape of Mars, the sheer distance of Mark from anyone who might be able to help him and the very real ticking clock make for a really fantastic read.