The story itself is great, and has the potential to be full of tension from beginning to end. However, that potential is not realised.
Most of the narrative is Mark Watney’s account of his survival on Mars after he has been left on the surface, presumed dead, by the rest of his crew. Colour is added by the interactions back at mission control in NASA as they plan the rescue.
Mark works out exactly what he needs to do to survive until the next scheduled mission. There is a lot of arithmetic involved as he calculates his rations, his air and water consumption, how to build a farm and grow potatoes, and all sorts of other factors to contribute to his journey. As a mathematician, I initially found this very interesting and I followed the sums to ensure that they were true. But, after three hundred or so pages of this, it became boring.
His log is interspersed with some lovely, wry humour, which I enjoyed.
I understand that the film is much more exciting than the book. Normally, for me, this works out to be the other way around. I must make the effort to see the film.
My lingering thoughts are that this was a wonderful first attempt at self-publishing. I have gone down this route myself, and it is difficult. Andy Weir has done a tremendous job. I feel that, had he put it aside for a few months, and re-written it, his book would have been even better. It’s a brilliant achievement that it has been made into a movie. Well done Andy Weir!
After-note: I finally got around to watching the film while I was on a trans-Atlantic flight in June 2016. The reports were correct. The film is better than the book. The conflicts back on Earth are brilliantly portrayed and the tension around Mark’s life on the surface of Mars and his eventual attempt to get back to Earth are really gripping.