I read The Martian by Andy Weir after watching the movie. I found the movie adaptation to be entertaining and enjoyable, and the novel (of course) did not disappoint me.
The first sentence in The Martian begins with: “I’m pretty much fucked”, which sets a humorous tone for the story of a man stuck on Mars. This is why I love both the novel and the movie: Mark Whatney is hilarious and thank the lord he is! Otherwise, he would have gone crazy living on Mars by himself, and I, as a reader, will go crazy with boredom reading about it.
“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”
MVP goes to Duct Tape
I used a sophisticated method to remove sections of plastic (hammer), then carefully removed the solid foam insulation (hammer again).
In order for this novel to be realistic, Weir uses a lot of jargon: NASA and “space” terms, a lot of math (a lot), engineering/mechanical/scientific language, and more. Going through Whatney’s thought process and calculations can become confusing and at times, even tedious. Luckily, Whatney’s wit gets readers through it all with enough logic to make us believe his solutions are feasible. Not only that, all the characters on Earth are busy trying to save Whatney, allowing no room for much comedic relief throughout the novel. Luckily, Whatney himself becomes the comedic relief.
Lonely Space Pirate
Jesus Christ, I’d give anything for a five-minute conversation with anyone. Anyone, anywhere. About anything. I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet.
For someone who has absolutely no social interaction with any human being for months, Whatney remains (for the most part) sane – an admirable feat by itself. His strong mentality is what I believe ultimately saves him, since someone who lacks mental strength would have given up hope and died long before Whatney started growing Mars potatoes (#potatoislife).
In spending over a year on a planet by himself, Whatney gets a lot of alone time to think and not many things to distract him (other than fixing things that might kill him). In between trying not to die, listening to terrible disco music, and colonizing a potato farm, Whatney doesn’t seem to be a character who ponders a lot about human existence, loneliness or desperation, or any of the real personal battles he experienced.
Yet if there is anybody who is fit to suffer from negative emotions, it must be him since he is the first person to be truly alone and stranded on a different planet. In this aspect, Weir could have done a better job of balancing out humour with well-timed emotional outbursts from the character of Whatney. Although no one can argue that survival on Mars is a difficult endeavour for any well-trained astronaut, the constant jokes from Whatney almost seem to downplay what an achievement it is. The plus of this is that Whatney’s personality is extremely likeable to readers; the downside is that he loses a level of depth that could’ve easily been achieved with this specific plot and set-up.
When a person is faced with almost ensured death like Whatney is, I want to know what goes on emotionally. Whatney spends most of his time and energy thinking about how to simply stay alive (which is fair), but as a reader, I would’ve loved to read more about Whatney’s feelings towards his parents, his lover (if he had one, or maybe even an almost-lover), his friends aside from his crew – even his enemies. What did he think of himself – his mistakes, successes, and future dreams? Aside from basic survival, what became evidently the most important part about living?
Help Your Neighbour
Well, okay. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.
As Honest Trailers suggests, this is a reality “where NASA is suddenly super popular and fully funded”, but aside from NASA (US and China), his rescue would have been absolutely impossible without all the public support that garnered government attention and funding. A man stuck on Mars – how is that not the hot topic of the news world? And of course we want this man back! How brave he is! Yet I wonder: if this actually happened, how many of us would agree to spend so many resources to save one person? Would we truly come together, join countries with long-standing history of conflicts, and do all that we can?
Because that is what happens in the book. Whatney’s rescue is a symbol of humanity overcoming greed and all the other dark parts of human nature.
In wanting to ask Whatney what the most important part about living is, perhaps the last chapter of this book answers it: helping others. Whatney is the recipient of endless help from other people. He returns to Earth as a glorious space hero, but simultaneously, also a beneficiary of human benevolence. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to return and understand that entire nations have conspired together to bring me back.
Weir reminds us that even if we are struggling to live and it feels like we are alone in the world, there will always be people who will help you. So do not give up. Grab some duct tape. Grow some potatoes.
Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.