Synopsis: A massive Martian dust storm forces the evacuation of the third NASA mission to Mars. As the crew attempts to keep their space ship from toppling from the launch pad, one astronaut is injured and lost. The crew launches and Mark Watney becomes the first permanent resident of Mars. All of Earth rallies to rescue him, but will he survive the harsh alien environment?
What I liked:
- The pacing. Simply put I kept reading, and had to force myself to go to bed after devouring the first two-thirds in one sitting.
- The science. One of the author’s goals was to only use existing technology. Once he set the stage with the near-future tech needed for a manned Mars mission, he didn’t create magic to save his character.
- The attitude. Mark Watney’s character shines through the dialog. He’s an irreverent smart-ass, and the humor has the subtext of a coping mechanism.
What bothered me:
- Heavy-handed foreshadowing. When a mission log starts becoming interspersed with commentary about canvas or dust, it’s a direct relation about the disaster to come. Those parts are skippable, and make it easy to jump ahead to the next mission update.
- Support cast. There’s only so much that can be done with the sheer number of people that are involved in a space mission. The author shows them mostly through dialog, which stopped short of rounding the characters. With just a few more lines, I would care more about them.
The good outweighs the bad, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
The novel’s publishing history is also remarkable. Originally it was released as a series on the author’s website, then as a ebook. When it exploded on Amazon, it was picked up by a print publisher.
This is the very thing that literary agents are saying doesn’t happen. I think times might be changing.