Imagine being one of the first astronauts to step foot on Mars. It's a cold, barren planet, but that's all fine since you and your crewmates will only be staying for about thirty days to conduct experiments. Except that there's a sudden storm and you all have to evacuate in a hurry, and during the frenzy of leaving, it looks like you've been fatally lost, so your crew leaves. Trouble is, you're still alive, you're all alone, and you have no way to communicate any of this. This is astronaut Mark Watney, and he's in deep trouble.
The Martian is gripping and intelligent from the first words (of which truer ones have rarely been written). I was impressed from the earliest pages by the ingenuity and resourcefulness Mark has; he not only figures out how to grow potatoes in order to prolong his food supply, he makes his way to an abandoned probe named Pathfinder in order to find a way to communicate with Earth. Once his predicament is known, NASA spends countless time and energy in developing a plan to rescue him. If it seems as though this would make for fairly boring reading, it doesn't. I was on the edge of my seat with each attempt, each failure, each idea, each page. If it's all very technical (impressive in and of itself), it all makes sense and just plain works. It's all believable.
The best part of The Martian, however, isn't the day-to-day survival story, or the spirit of cooperation inspired back on Earth, but the people themselves. Mark is absolutely one of my favorite characters ever, with his wit and wry comments that make you laugh out loud or plunge you into terror. He's the one you cheer for every second and feel for when there are setbacks. But he's not alone in being compelling by any means. The NASA people, including Venkat Kapoor, Mitch, Teddy, Annie...they are real and engaging and cheer worthy as well. The crew of the Hermes (the ones who accidentally left Mark behind) are funny and smart and determined; I seriously think none of them could have been written any better.
The Martian is one of those books I'm going to be cheerleading for for a very long time to come; it's definitely a cut above most of the reading I've done in the past year or so. If you think it's only for science fiction fans, think again; I absolutely challenge you to not become engrossed within the first fifty pages. Pick up and give it a try...you're going to love it.