You may not have heard of Andy Weir. He has no Wikipedia page and he only has the one book listed on Amazon. His web site galactanet.com looks like a 1996 MySpace page. What he does have is the best hard science book about Mars I have ever read. The entire book involves the main character using science to figure his way out of an impossible situation. Although he lacks the world building and character interactions of Kim Stanley Robinson he still manages to engage the author in this MacGyver tale of survival.
The basic plot takes place in the near future. There’s actually very little future tech in this movie. We find ourselves with the lone castaway of the Ares 3 mission. This is the third mission of a planned 5 mission program. Each mission has 6 members. The mission profile involves sending supplies and equipment ahead of time to the red planet. Our crew use a reusable interplanetary ship called the Hermes. The Hermes has an ion propulsion system and is expected to be used for all three missions although it will never make it to the surface. There’s a dust storm and an accident on sol 6 of the mission. Our hero and botanist, Mark Watney is presumed dead when his suit is impaled and all life support readings are lost. The rest of the crew are forced to abandon him. He awakes to find his ride is gone and his radio is broken.
What follows is a very detailed assessment of the resources on hand. Mark works the problem eventually figuring out how to create food, water, and oxygen enough to survive for 15 months until he can be rescued. The facts and figures are daunting. He even says things like, “you can trust me on the math.” He deals with the psychological challenges of the isolation and the horrors of disco music. The facts and figures can overwhelm and be a bit tedious but in the end the story progresses and you care about the character. There are some minor characters that represent what you expect of NASA’s response to such a situation.
I highly recommend this book. When you finish reading it, check out Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars and Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy.