The Martian is so incredibly real that there's basically no need to suspend disbelief at all (although apparently the storm that starts the whole adventure is impossible) because Andy Weir really, really did his homework. But it's not just the fact that this book is more science than fiction that makes it so gripping- our protagonist, Mark Watney, is so well-developed and so gosh-darn likeable that you desperately want to see him succeed, and you're on the edge of your seat the entire time, feverishly biting your nails as if there really were an American astronaut stranded on Mars that we're all trying to rescue.
Some have complained that it's difficult to dive in to the story because there is too much science, but I don't think that's a valid complaint. No, Mark is writing his log entries with the knowledge that regular people will read it one day- people who are not rocket scientists- so he clearly and patiently describes the reasons behind the pieces of his plan without actually busting out the equations. If there's anything that might make this book difficult to get into, it might be those log entries themselves- initially, the narration is entirely first person in the form of the mission log Watney is using to record what happened, how he survived, and how he plans to get back home. These log entries are how we get to know him, and he becomes an incredibly well-developed character who is charming, obviously incredibly intelligent, and a master of dark humor- the quality that keeps his spirit alive against the odds. But I did worry that this would be the entire book, and that these log entries would get a little old; I didn't want to end up resenting this character I'd fallen in love with because I was tired of being stuck in his head. Never fear- the narrative style changes before you get a chance to get bored with it, as third person narration and actual dialogue intersperse themselves among the log entries. In retrospect, that long, unbroken stretch of log entries is incredibly important to set the tone and create the initial suspense- it's just you and Watney, thus reinforcing that our stranded astronaut is utterly and completely alone, with no other characters in sight, not even a disembodied narrator. It's incredibly effective from both a character-building and plot-driving standpoint.
All in all, I'm glad I had a chance to read the book first, though I'm sure the movie is just as incredible as the critics have said. If you're looking for a book to keep you company on your holiday vacation, The Martian is a good one! (It's especially poignant for Thanksgiving- you'll certainly feel thankful to be surrounded by friends and loved ones, and for a meal consisting of more than just potatoes and protein packs!)
Have you read The Martian? What did you think? What books have you read lately that you'd recommend?