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  1. Today's launch of the Orion spacecraft seems like a good opportunity to talk about this book. For those who don't know - it is set shortly into the future after the third manned-mission to Mars goes horribly wrong when a team of astronauts must abort the mission and leave behind a crew member who is presumed to be mortally wounded in a sandstorm. Trouble is, he survived. Stranded on Mars, Mark Watney must use his technical skills in engineering and botany to extend what was originally a 30-day mission to last for years before he has any chance of rescue. This book is an extremely well researched hard science-fiction triller that impressed me with how much commitment it had to its science and did not compromise it for cheap dramatics. However it had just enough humility and sense of humour to not make readers feel out of their depth with the concepts. Many people have compared it to a mix of Cast Away and Apollo 13, and as such I visualised the main character as basically being Tom Hanks. I really liked this book. It heralds a degree of scientific literacy such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke that is rare to find in fiction. It also avoids falling into blind scientism since it is very respectful of the limits of Man as it confronts the overwhelming indifference of the Universe. This is especially impressive since as far as I know the author has no scientific background. Some problems I had with it were it pushed a bit too hard with the humour at times. The book is mostly told in the form of first-person journal entries from Mark Watney - who while a very talented and professional scientist - he tends to respond to stress with dry black humour. This is great most of the time to provide comedic relief from the tension and to condense complex scientific principles into simple analogies. However I think it came at a slight expense of some interesting introspective character moments that were too few and far between. This does not reach too far in trying to be a dark dramatic character study like Gravity or Interstellar (which I am truly grateful for because it was handled poorly in both those movies) but it does come off as a bit too flippant at times and the first-person window you get into his experience feels a little bit wasted.