By Andy Weir
Broadway books, 2011
The Martian is an excellent work of near-future hard science fiction. It is set in our own world, but advanced by a few years, to the point that manned flight to Mars has been underway for some years. The story starts mid-way through the USA's third trip to the red planet, and nothing too very exciting is expected. Unfortunately, only six days into the mission a massive sand storm threatens to collapse the team's habitat and flip over their lander, so they are forced to abort the mission.
On the way out, the team botanist/mechanical engineer, Mark Watney, is speared by a broken antenna, and whipped away be the storm. His suit monitor shows that his biological signs have ceased, and he is left for dead. A fact that he finds somewhat troubling when he awakes with a hole in his side, a hole in his suit (clogged by frozen blood), and no one else on the planet. Oh, and limited food. And air. And water. And the radio is broken. But NASA picks the best and the brightest, and trains them for every conceivable emergency. Mark has totally got this.
This book is by far the hardest work of hard SF that I have ever read -- the science isn't too far advanced from today's and it is almost 100% accurate. The only scientific inaccuracy of any note is the sand storm that chased off the astronauts; Mars' atmosphere would not actually be able to muster a storm so severe. Aside from that, this is straight up canon NASA fanfic. And despite this, the book is highly readable and engaging, although it will surely be most interesting to space nuts.
Perhaps the greatest flaw in this book, and there are very few, is that we pretty much know what is going to happen next. When there is one person on the planet, and there are still 200 pages to go, you pretty much know that a system failure is coming up soon. And that the hero will survive. And then another potentially deadly problem, and another clever solution. And then another. And then another. Seriously, what else is going to happen? Even so, the variety of problems and solutions, the humor with which the story is told, keep it from ever being too predictable.