The Martian, Andy Weir. Sheer coincidence this worked its way to the top of my TBR pile a few days after The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched the movie. Wasn’t even my book. She picked it up for something to read on a long flight a few months ago. I figured I’d at least start it to humor her—science fiction not often to my taste—and stayed up till well after 1:00 AM two nights in a row to finish it.
For those unfamiliar, The Martian is the story of an astronaut who is injured and thought dead during the third manned mission to Mars. The crew has to abandon him or risk death from the same storm that allegedly killed him. The rest of the book is about how he stays alive while NASA figures out how to get him back.
This is as close to the perfect blend of thriller, plot, character, and good writing as you’re likely to find. Weir hits my geek point—I was 13 when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon; a three-foot-high model of a Saturn V rocket sat in my room—so all the NASA stuff struck a chord. Writing most of the book as a series of log entries kept the detail from overwhelming the reader. The well-crafted and diverse cast (not just ethnically; personality-wise) is led by Mark Watney, who could have been written for Matt Damon. Sure, I’d just seen the movie and Damon was in my head. Still. It was perfect.
Of course, Weir didn’t write the book for Matt Damon. The greatest mystery of The Martian isn’t anything about the story of what NASA and Watney do to try to save him; it’s why indie publishing proponents haven’t been screaming about the success of this book at rocket-launch volume. Weir is a programmer—a bit of a prodigy, hired by a national laboratory at the age of 15—and, so he thought, a failed writer. He’s also a self-described space nerd who wrote The Martian as a serial on his blog. That’s right: he wrote it as a fucking serial on his fucking blog. Friends liked it so much he self-published it as a $0.99 Kindle book where it sold like hell, bringing him print book and movie deals.
Never has anything risen from more humble beginnings more deservedly. It doesn’t matter if you like thrillers, science fiction, or, hell, even science. You’ll enjoy The Martian. You might even learn something.