I was recommended The Martian by a friend a little while ago, and finished it as a holiday book. A lot of readers find it almost impossible to put down: this was not quite my experience, though I have enjoyed reading it a great deal.
The basic setting is that one member (Mark Watney) of a near-future manned Martian expedition is accidentally left on the planet when the crew have to abruptly abandon the mission. The story then follows Mark’s struggle for survival until the point where a rescue becomes possible. There is a long succession of crises that have to be faced and overcome by a mixture of hard work and inventiveness. Some of the time Mark is able to validate his plans with expert advice from NASA, but at other times he is purely on his own.
The science and engineering aspects have been exceptionally well thought through, so far as I can tell. Mark is able to make creative and credible use of the materials at his disposal, which themselves are plausible for his original mission. To a very large extent the repeated crises drive the plot, and other issues such as character are largely in the background. We do get to learn quite a lot about Mark’s current frame of mind, but much less about his back story, or indeed that of any of the other peripheral characters. It is basically a “geek triumphs over adversity” story, and a splendid example of this.
To a degree the story tails off towards the end. This is largely because the presenting issues are so large that the outcome is either total success or total failure (and hence death). The stakes keep growing, and the possibilities for successfully finding a way out get narrower.
For me, another 4* book. It was very well planned out and executed, and a highly believable near-future scenario. Personally I prefer books with more character interaction, which by definition is not going to happen here. But many people will appreciate The Martian for its technical detail and long series of survival challenges.