This was another of those books that seemed to be growing in popularity to the point that I kept finding mentions of it wherever I went.
The premise is simple. In the not too distant future, NASA has been begun sending people to Mars. Ares 3, the third such mission, has been on the ground for less than a week when a storm threatens to knock over their ascent vehicle, which they need to get home, so they’re forced to leave. En-route to it, an accident means they leave a man behind, believing he’s dead. Only astronaut Mark Watney isn’t dead, yet.
We then follow Watney as he tries to overcome all the challenges of surviving on a hostile planet millions of miles from Earth and the nearest help, which he can’t reach as he has no radio. It’s Apollo 13 for the Mars generation.
It makes for an interesting tale of what scientists, engineers and those of a logical persuasion can overcome, told largely through Watney’s logs. It’s interspersed with his wry sense of humour, which helps to lighten the technical stuff.
The only issues are that, in order to prevent the story getting boring, it needs to through a constant series of challenges at the protagonist, who appears to be the unluckiest man alive (there’s barely a piece of equipment or task that doesn’t fail at some point). It’s also very focused on the technical details, rarely does it reflect on Watney’s inner emotions (or anyone else’s).
Still, a very good read. A film version is due to be released in late 2015.