That was what I felt The Martian succeeded in doing. It provided a hefty dose of reality of what an astronaut will potentially face. It takes more than a year for a single space mission, and that is only to Mars, the 4th planet in our Solar system. If you don’t get along with your crewmates, there really isn’t much you can do except endure it and in very close proximity at that. And if I ever get to choose a crewmate if I chance upon space travel, it will be Matt Damon, err I mean Mark Watney. He’s smart, has a great sense of humour, and demonstrates amazing resourcefulness and resiliency against the overwhelming odds stacked against him. And does he ever face them – time and time again!
Watney’s POV was predominantly written in the form of log entries (i.e. first person) and was really hilarious. His optimism was just so endearing, albeit usually after he spewed a whole lot of profanity first when he landed himself into trouble. A few of Watney’s scenes was suitably switched to a third person narrative, which worked very well to convey an almost palpable tension.
One of the most amazing aspects of this book is how realistic it was. It almost read like a real account of something that could happen. There’s a whole lot of science and mathematics involved which indicated how much research the author went through to write this book. Watney’s narration carefully explained his thought process in rigging up his solutions (some which are most unsophisticated, i.e. duct tape and hammer, but hey, it works!).
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
As someone who has used duct tape in almost every fix er' up situation possible - right down to holding up the bottom of a drawer - I completely agree!
While the scientific and arithmetic explanations can get a bit lengthy, Watney’s witty tone made it a breeze to read and the practical application quite interesting. If I am the one stranded on Mars, I am 110% dead! Unless of course, Watney conducts a class on How To Survive Mars, for which I will sign up immediately.
Outside of Watney's POV - on planet Earth and on board the Hermes spacecraft - the author crafted a tale of compassion and the lengths that humanity will go to in order to save a fellow human being. These characters were well-portrayed even though the bulk of the narrative focussed on Watney's fight for survival on a planet, that without any prejudice, will kill him in a blink of an eye.
The Martian is an amazing story with lots of suspense and tension, great characters, and strong themes of resilience and human compassion. While not for everyone, as some might find the technical bits boring, I think that Andy Weir has written a really great science fiction book which will be spoken of in many years to come.