The Martian starts with our protagonist, Mark Watney (a smart Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation to me) getting struck by shrapnel from a communication satellite as he and his crew mates evac on Mars, leaving Watney behind. This premise could be very dry with all of the technical details about oxygenators and CO2 scrubbers and water reclaimers but author Andy Weir makes it interesting. Watney has such a great voice and he's very funny, pulling the reader into the story and immediately making Watney sympathetic.
Lucky for Watney, he is a botanist and mechanical engineer, making him well-suited to survive alone on another planet. He's able to fix problems that arise (make water from rocket fuel, build things out of spare parts, repair his home) and grow some food from Earth soil mixed with Martian soil (yay potatoes! Boo human manure. Smelly business). To keep things interesting, (Mark is alone. Things would get boring if things didn't go wrong) bad things sometimes happen. It's fun to see how Mark figures out how to solve these problems with his limited resources.
The book also follows NASA personnel on Earth as they make plans to rescue Mark. We also spend some time with Mark's crew mates aboard the Hermes. These characters aren't as fleshed out as Watney is but that's alright. After all, this is Mark's story. The NASA folks have interesting interactions and plenty of disagreements about the right course of action. I enjoyed the Earth parts as much as Mark's parts.
Not only is the plot to The Martian gripping but the writing is great as well. It's descriptive but not overly technical without sacrificing the emotion. The research that went into this book shows. Everything that happens seems totally plausible. The technology is basically modern day with perhaps a few advanced pieces of hardware but nothing that's space magic. I'm kind of floored that this is Weir's first novel. It completely blew me away. Maybe in a few years, this will be turned into a movie. Gravity meets Moon!