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Remember this scene from Apollo 13 where NASA engineers have to find out how to fit a rectangular carbon dioxide filter into a round hole? Did you want more of that scene?

Well if you do, then you’ll love The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s the tale of Mark Watney, a NASA botanist stranded alone on Mars after his crewmates make an emergency departure. Weir uses existing technology and scientific facts to create a realistic story exploring what Watney would need to do to get home safe.

The_Martian_2014The main character details his triumphs and tribulations in a daily log, which showcases his ingenuity and dark sense of humor. The first-person telling is augmented by a great third-person storyline of NASA’s attempts to contact and rescue the stranded astronaut.

Throughout the book, the reader is led through the steps Watney takes to make water, grow food and even get in contact with home. While there are plenty of numbers, Weir does a masterful job of leading you through the math without slowing down the story.

While Watney is dogged by equipment failure and resource shortages, the book is not just a series of freak accidents; there is one major problem that leads to a cascade of smaller problems, each bringing the hero to the brink of extermination.

The book is firmly rooted in reality. Weir first published The Martian as a series of short stories on his website, and readers sent in corrections to the science and math that altered his writing. It’s so precise that Weir says a reader could figure out the exact launch date of Watney’s failed mission from clues in the book.

Eventually, he started selling the finished tale as an ebook on Amazon, where it steadily climbed the charts. Astronauts, scientists and famous nerds praised the book, which is now being made into a Matt Damon-led, Ridley Scott-directed blockbuster. (I highly suggest reading the book before watching this trailer even, as every chapter introduces a new challenge the stranded astronaut has to deal with.)

It’s not a long read. You could probably finish the book in a weekend, riding the waves of emotion as you cheer for Watney’s survival. When you do finish it and want some more, check out Weir’s talk with Mythbuster’s Adam Savage about the book, how it was made and what Weir thinks of the upcoming movie.

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