I just finished listening to and subsequently restarting The Martian. Audiobook, of course, and I highly recommend it.
When I first heard about the movie version of The Martian I figured it would be fairly similar to Apollo 13, one of my favorite movies growing up. (I was raised by computer engineer sci fi nerds, what can I say.) Nothing I heard past that point really convinced me that this movie would be a comedy. Then I got my hands on the novel, and oh my god. I have never misjudged a book by its cover so much in my life.
In short, it was hilarious. What I was expecting, and tbh what the movie provided a lot more than the book did, was your basic scramble-rescue mission story. What made the book wonderful was that it was really more the story of one man surviving, using humor to cope with the facts that he’s most likely fucked, Murphy’s Law is a thing, and he’s the only person on the planet.
Some (non-spoiler) examples:
- “Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. ‘Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.’”
- “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
- “I guess you could call it a ‘failure,’ but I prefer the term ‘learning experience.’”
- “I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.”
And a slightly spoilery example. Purists, just ignore the following.
- “Me: ‘This is obviously a clog. How about I take it apart and check the internal tubing?’ NASA: (after five hours of deliberation) ‘No. You’ll fuck it up and die.’ So I took it apart.”
This happens to coincide with my finally talking my partner into watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me, and there may not seem like a connection there but stay with me. Admittedly, the first few seasons are a little goofy, then gradually get more dark and serious. Consistently along the way, the characters use humor to deflect the gloom and doom, death and darkness seriousness of it all. They all have their scars, one way or another, but they’re also pretty good at the principle of faking it till you make it.
The Martian uses the same kind of humor. You deal because you have to, and in the meantime you crack jokes as a way of letting off steam because that makes coping a little easier. I really enjoy that in stories.
How the book makes me feel and think: The end takeaway, without any spoilers, is that everyone back on Earth goes all out trying to bring Mark Watney back home. Some movies with a similar takeaway include Apollo 13 and, in a way, Love Actually. It’s about human connections. It’s about the lengths people will go to preserve those connections, and reach out to others to help them when theirs are endangered. And what’s more disconnected about being stranded alone on a different planet?
What I learned from the book: Lots of cool facts about Mars. The fact that Earth bacteria is a vital part of plants being able to grow, and some other botany and chemistry things.
How this book becomes a part of who I am and where I am going: Shortly before I started listening to this book, my partner wrote a sci fi plot for a challenge and ask me if I wanted to write it someday. Thanks to The Martian, I think I want to. I think I want to read (and rewatch) The Expanse first for more space ideas to invade my brain… There were a lot of things in The Martian that I’d never thought of before, like the chemical reactions to make more water out of oxygen and some other stuff or that oxygen can be harvested from Mars’ mainly CO2 atmosphere.
The Verdict: I recommend this book to anyone who likes either sci fi, survival stories, and/or lots of wisecracks.