The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir is a book about an engineer, for engineers. The protagonist, Mark Watney, is like MacGyver. Only real.
The story begins with Watney reflecting on the last few days since he was marooned on Mars, along the way providing the context for the mission that had brought him there:
Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Commander Lewis was in charge. Actually I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know, I’m in command.
There’s a lot of humor in the book, particularly but not exclusively in the first person narrative provided by Watney’s personal log entries. There’s also lots of math of the kind “they told us in school would one day save our lives” (to quote from another story about astronauts marooned on Mars). This isn’t your typical “seat of the pants”, suck it up and barrel through survival story. It’s a story about employing hard science and real math to save the day, over and over again.
There isn’t a lot of water here on Mars. There’s ice at the poles, but they’re too far away. If I want water, I’ll have to make it from scratch. Fortunately, I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn.
Watney is sharp, and smart, but he’s not alone. For one, there’s the NASA satellite controller whose painstaking analysis of landing site imagery makes her the first to discover that Watney, whose only long range communications capability left with the rest of his crew, is still alive on Mars.
“Why are the solar cells clean?” Mindy said, fighting back tears. “There was a huge sandstorm. Why isn’t there sand all over them?”
“A good wind could have done it?” Venkat said, unsure.
“Did I mention I never found Watney’s body?” she said, sniffling.
Venkat’s eyes widened as he stared at the picture. “Oh…,” he said quietly. “Oh God…”
Mindy put her hands over her face and sobbed quietly.
And then there’s the “lone wolf” astrodynamicist who begins pursuing a long-shot idea on his own time that turns out to be a game changer when everything that can go wrong does.
“I need some supercomputer time, ” Rich said.
“You need supercomputer time to calculate routine satellite adjustments?”
“No, it’s for the other thing I’m working on, ” Rich said.
“Rich, seriously. You have to do your job.”
Rich thought for a moment. “Would now be a good time for a vacation?” he asked.
Mike sighed. “You know what, Rich? I think now would be an ideal time for you to take a vacation.”
“Great!” Rich smiled. “I’ll start right now.”
“Sure, ” Mike said. “Go home. Get some rest.”
“Oh, I’m not going home,” said Rich, returning to his calculations.
Mike rubbed his eyes. “Okay, whatever. About those satellite orbits…?”
“I’m on vacation,” Rich said without looking up.
Mike shrugged and walked away.
If you’re even a little bit of an engineer, you need to read this book.
If you know an engineer, buy a copy and give it to them as a gift. They’ll be really glad you did.