The Martian makes for a good book, but I can’t wait to see what a visual medium can do that the written words of Andy Weir cannot. Don’t let me down, Matt Damon!
The Martian starts off following an accident that leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded as the sole member of the population of Mars, with little means to survive on his own if he has any hope of someday being rescued by those who unknowingly left a man who is very much alive behind on an inhospitable planet. The premise has a hint of Gravity if you let your mind reach for the high tilt survival story that could very much come about, and does in many ways, but don’t quite expect the anxiety that was brought on by watching Sandra Bullock freak out about, and fight back against, space.
The main reasoning for this discrepancy in tone and pace between these two stories is how The Martian is presented, taking the form of a log to communicate Watney’s story. Thinking ahead, the only person who would ever find this log, thus the person Watney writes it for, is other explorers deemed worthy enough to be shot out into space. Hey Weir, I’m not saying there isn’t an astronaut of scientist reading your book, but the vast majority of your audience is dumb-dumbs like me who aren’t going to double check your equations and research how plants grow on a foreign planet. You could probably have Watney say “I peed on some potatoes I had hidden among the rocks on Mars and they magically started growing because science” and I’d be convinced that I should start peeing on more things. So next time just consider knowing your audience. Not Watney’s audience, yours. I may be slightly more intelligent than that example presents, but you don’t have to go out of your way to prove you know what you are talking about to such an extent that it no longer benefits the story. Science is fascinating and all, but eventually that becomes boring as I crave more of the human experience.
To sum up Watney’s experience on Mars: he goes through A LOT, and handles everything much differently than the average person would. Definitely differently than I would. Let’s just say that first entry would be a scathing indictment of the training and standard operating practices of NASA full of expletives and finger pointing to all of my blood on everyone else’s hands cuz they’ve killed me and I’m all alone and F everybody and then just a train of random letters as I throw my face down into my arms, sobbing until my tears fry the keyboard. My story would be one entry into the log, and then a lot more crying and stress and crying and death. And maybe a little more crying post mortem.
This is why I am not signing up for any space programs, but Watney did, so clearly he is more of a survivor than I am. Even so, he is still human, yet we never really experience him in a defeatist mindset, we never see him break down, and other than the occasional joke to himself that sneaks in at the end of a chapter there isn’t always the most personality in Watney’s writing in general. Just a lot of: “so that happened. But I survived it by doing this and that and now I’m back on track.” I understand that he isn’t going to annotate his crying fits, assuming he has them, but Watney is surprisingly emotionally stable when facing death day after day. Speaking of: the other downfall to this writing style is that Watney has to survive everything in order to tell us about it in his log, so even as ridiculously dangerous stuff happens to him it always seems so simple for him to find a way to get through it and move on.
I will say that as much as I think this choice in writing style hindered Watney’s story from being as filled out as it could be, I will credit Weir for making some choices that helped as well. One of the first choices to break up the chemistry note taking is when, to my relief, the focus shifts to NASA back on Earth once they realize that Watney is actually still alive and stranded on Mars. Add visiting with the rest of Watney’s crew and we get a little more emotional stakes to the story, but, as hypocritical as this might sound considering all that I just complained about, my favorite choice was when Weir interjects this other omnipotent voice that sees all that is happening out of the gaze of the human element of the story. Like the talking heads looking back during documentaries, this choice went from being initially rather confusing to bringing on a newfound anticipation in what Watney was about to go through.
In the end The Martian still passes as an entertaining and fast read, but I was craving so much more from the character element between the exciting plot points that I can’t help but be a little disappointed. So again, I beg you, don’t let me down Matt Damon. Make this story everything it can be!