One of the best-reviewed books of 2014 is now one of the best movies out this year. It isn’t hard to see why: astronaut Mark Watney, botanist on the third manned-mission to Mars, is presumed dead after a fierce storm forces the emergency departure of the rest of his crew. Watney’s not dead, however, but he soon will be if he doesn’t figure out how to solve his food crisis, find a way to contact NASA, plan a way to leave the planet’s surface, and basically survive in an environment incompatible to human life. It’s a suspenseful read, made more invigorating by Watney’s gallows humor and MacGyver-like acumen.
Author Andy Weir is a former software engineer and NASA junkie, and it cannot be emphasized enough how authentic the depictions in the novel are. Except for the whole “we-haven’t-gotten-to-Mars-yet” thing, this book is one of the most realistic science-fiction books available now. It’s so realistic that it’s only sci-fi by technicality – I would file it next to the survival skills handbooks in your library. Truly, one of the best aspects about this novel (and the movie adaptation) is the free PR it provides for a mind of scientific inquiry. Not to knock my beloved field of English, but if I was on Mars I wouldn’t stand a chance with only HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs as my “experts” . This book is good enough to make you pursue a career in STEM, if only to increase your livability as a Martian.
The movie is also impeccable, directed by Ridley Scott with Matt Damon starring as Watney. Both the film and the book earn a PG-13 rating, for scenes of peril and the use of mature language (being trapped in life-threatening situations can do that to you). You can pick this one up at any bookstore, the county library, and my now-treasured class copy. Earthlings might be setting foot on the Red Planet sometime this century, so read this book: it may save your life.