by Andy Weir
Broadway Books, 2014
$15.00; 387 pages
This is a book for nerds. Clearly written by a big fat nerd, for other big fat nerds. I mean that in the best possible way, since I absolutely loved reading it. From his dust jacket portrait, Weir is obviously not fat, but the accompanying bio does use the word "nerd". For me, this is a term of endearment rather than abuse.
Weir did a really amazing job making this book appeal to a broader audience than your typical hard sci-fi. And this is the hardest of hard sci-fi. There weren't any equations in the text [I have heard anecdotally each one you include reduces the audience by half], but for those of us in the know could easily imagine them in the appropriate places. Just so, there were no wiring diagrams, chemical formulae, or orbital diagrams, but I knew where they would go if they were there. I think it was a good call to leave them out. This book has broad appeal.
It helps that Mark Watney is genuinely funny and likable. He is a big joker, but he is so good-natured about it that you couldn't hate him even if he were ribbing you. Which he is. I can be funny, but if I got stranded on Mars people might be tempted to just leave me there. His sense of humor is important, because someone more serious might have lost their mind alone on Mars.
In this, like in so many things, Watney is the luckiest-unluckiest son of a mother to ever visit Mars. From the very beginning of the book Watney manages to survive several things that easily could have been fatal accidents. The genius of the book, as Weir admits, is that the events in the book follow a simple formula: each solution produces the next problem. Each event is dictated by the science and engineering realities of being on a hostile and distant planet, which is exactly why science nerds love this book.
Even the cast of supporting characters rings true to me. I wouldn't be surprised if Weir just based them off people he knows, because I feel like I've met some of them in real life. This is an exaggeration, but I think Weir nails the kind of people who work for places like NASA and JPL.
For all this scientific accuracy, this book is just plain fun. I laughed, I cried, I was enthralled. Thanks for the ride, Andy Weir, and the best of luck in whatever you try next.