For some reason I thought the Matt Damon movie was coming out next year, but as soon as I heard it was THIS October, this rocketed to the top of my To Read pile (get it?).
I'm sure the movie will disappoint (they almost always do; that's why I usually try to watch a movie to enjoy it first and THEN read the book so I can enjoy both), but I don't care because the book was amazing. Loved every minute of it.
It's set in the near future after NASA has already sent two manned Ares missions to Mars. Mark Watney is part of Ares 3, but their mission gets cut short after less than a week thanks to a huge dust storm that forces them to abort and evacuate immediately. During their escape, a piece of antenna impales Mark directly through his bio-monitor and the entire crew assumes him dead. Luckily for Mark, the puncture wound wasn't too serious and his space suit never decompressed. Unluckily for Mark, the crew continued with their planned evac after not finding his body & seeing his flat bio-readings, taking all comm systems with them.
Watney is stuck on Mars with enough provisions to last six people about a month (or one person about six months). The next planned mission to Mars is 4 years away so Watney has to rely on his botany background to somehow grow food on the desolate red planet.
A series of unfortunate events occur, and the storytelling by Andy Weir is just fantastic. There's a short essay written by Weir in the end of the e-book that talks about how he chose to create problems from Watney's solutions. As I read the book, I kept expecting the worst to happen and was surprised when he didn't have a meteor land on top of him as he became a new crater! It was nice to read how Weir specifically avoided giving Watney the worst luck possible and tried to stick to more real life problems.
The Martian starts off as a simple first-person narrative in the form of Mark's journal entries. The first lines:
LOG ENTRY: SOL 6 I'm pretty much f***ed. That's my considered opinion. F***ed.
immediately drew me in. Watney is intelligent, charming, inventive, and hilarious! His diary entries often go day by day with a good mix of science, math, suspense and jokes. Another great journal entry [after Watney realizes everything he writes will be broadcast all over the world (if he's saved)] is, "Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)"
Without getting too spoilery, the novel does switch from first person journal entry narrative to third-person authorial narrative as we see how the guys at NASA & JPL deal with finding out Watney didn't die on Sol 6 and how his Ares 3 crewmates deal with the fact he's still alive. The story transitions from day to day journal entries to entries & narration that span weeks or months, but the suspense never really lets up. Watney almost dies like a dozen times but he's always cheerful/humble as he attempts to stay alive ("Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me"). Back on Earth, dozens of scientists band together to spend millions (if not billions) of dollars to save one man and eventually the whole planet watches their televisions as everything draws to an exciting conclusion.
Can't lie—near the end I got a little misty-eyed. And I laughed out loud several times throughout. I think Ridley Scott (director of Alien) is going to do great with this. Can't wait to see Matt Damon use his funny bone as Watney. The whole cast (Mara, Wiig, Chastain, Bean, Ejiofor, Daniels, Peña, Glover, et al) looks great. I really want to just read the book again since the movie isn't coming out for another month...