Astronaut Mark Watney is on the surface of Mars with his fellow astronauts, part of only the third Mars mission ever, when a storm blows up, hitting Mark with an antenna that punctures his space suit, and blowing him away from the group. They have no choice but to leave him for dead as they evacuate the planet and start their long journey back to Earth. Despite the fact that Mark's suit stopped relaying vital signs and he is presumed dead, he's alive. But now he's trapped on Mars with no way to communicate with Earth, no hope of rescue for four years, and a food supply that will last him only a few months. Now the struggle to survive starts.
Mark was his mission's botanist and engineer so he has some skills that will enable him to solve some of the problems he faces on this inhospitable planet. Told in journal form, written to preserve his experiences for posterity, the novel is completely gripping. Mark encounters catastrophe after catastrophe but faces each one with ingenuity and resourcefulness. He jury rigs things in ways that would make MacGyver proud and NASA sweat. He details the math and science behind his fixes and his calculations and reasoning are definitely convincing. While the math and science are a fairly big portion of the story, they are very definitely necessary to the plot. And really, they aren't that difficult to understand so don't let them scare you away from reading this.
Mark as a character is delightful. He's irreverent and funny. His side comments about the music and 70s tv shows left behind by his fellow astronauts add some levity to a really dire situation. There are some honest to goodness laugh out loud moments here as well as funny little asides on things as mundane as how well duct tape works on Mars (spoiler: it's amazing stuff and cannot be improved upon). There are brief chapter interludes detailing the reactions and scramble of those at Mission Control when they realize that Mark is alive and these changes of perspective help to keep the pacing taut and further impress on the reader the desperate precariousness of Mark's situation even as it has become commonplace for him. This is like no book I've read before and I stayed up to all hours to finish is, completely incapable of putting it down, even for sleep. Even if you don't read science fiction, take a chance on this one. You won't be disappointed.