This is a thrilling book indeed, and it basically delivers what all the praise it’s been getting promises: real SF, plausible, funny at times, an outright page-turner. If that appeals to you – and why wouldn’t it? – do not hesitate: read this book. It’s good stuff.
After about a page or 50, I started to fear that The Martian would be nothing but journal entries that follow a fixed pattern: astronaut encounters problem on Mars, thinks about problem, solves problem, encounters new problem, repeat ad nauseam. Weir luckily is a smart enough author, and in order to keep the reader interested, inserts enough variety in the way he tells this story (which basically is indeed not much more than said succession of problem solving).
2 other minor problems didn’t get a real fix, imo. Weir doesn’t succeed in transferring feelings of loneliness or despair to the reader. While this book seems very plausible science wise, I’m not sure if any person (not even selected and highly trained astronauts) would remain as sane as Mark Watney does. So, don’t start reading this expecting a very wrought out, realistic psychological story. That doesn’t mean Mark Watney isn’t a great, lovable character. He is, and he’s a big part of the appeal of The Martian.
The other thing that doesn’t work is the portrayal of time. Obviously Watney is stuck on Mars for quite some time, but to me, as a reader, it just felt like a month or 2.
On both accounts, Weir chose entertainment over true realism. Nothing wrong with that, but it keeps The Martian from being a Real True Masterwork of Art about the Bleakness of Space and the Ultimateness of Reality.
Still, these two quibbles shouldn’t keep you from reading this book. It’s recommended indeed, and I had real trouble putting it away before it was finished. I hope it wasn’t a one shot affair, and look forward to read more of Andy Weir in the future.
originally written on the 12th of April, 2015