Saturday, October 3, 2015

Thinking About "The Martian"

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Actually, I'd planned to write a few words about "The Martian" after I'd seen the film; my wife Lucy and I are planning to visit our favorite cinema tonight for that reason.  So my comments here are actually about Andy Weir's book rather than the film.  I'll let you know what I think of the cinematic adventures of Mark Watney later after viewing Mr. Scott's film.

I'll be up-front here; I LOVE this book.  LOVE it.  I've been reading science fiction since I was eight-ish, and rarely have I run across such an enjoyable, "hard" space adventure as this.  Since Lucy first insisted that I read "The Martian" (she'd already read it twice by then) I've been a fan of Mr. Weir's taut interplanetary survival story.  From the "F-Bomb" opening line to the final paragraphs it is a fun, smart telling of that age-old tale of "Man Against the Elements".  "The Old Man And The Sea" with a lot less water and no sharks but plenty of danger.
Some have compared "The Martian" to the 2000 film "Cast Away" starring Tom Hanks.  I find this comparison invalid, as Hank's character in that film is as a naked babe dropped into his particular island; he comes into the story with no survival training or skills, and apparently without having read or viewed a single story about survivors having to secure shelter, food, water, etc. He was definitely NOT a Boy Scout.  Watney, on the other hand, is a fully-trained astronaut with knowledge of chemistry, electronics, and--wait for it!--Botany.

Also, Hank's castaway is a victim; Watney trained and labored for years to visit Mars.  Not a victim.

A better comparison for Mr. Weir's book is the late Tom Clancy's novel "The Hunt for Red October".  This 1984 book impressively introduced millions of readers to the intricacies and capabilities of submarines, sonar systems, and the subsea environment, accomplishing the feat not by "dumbing down" the subject matter but through rather brilliant dialogue between characters and some surprisingly apt metaphor. "The Martian" does this as well, as Watney explains to his audience (by dictating a personal log into the computer) what he is doing in his quest to survive and thrive on Mars.

Okay, so I love this book.  Love is good.  Love means never having to say you're sorry. Love also means being honest.  And, being honest, I can say that Mr. Weir's novel leaves me rather flat in a few, rather vital, areas.  (And I am sorry about having to say that!)

Firstly, portions of the plot seem eerily similar to nearly identical scenario/solution points in the film "Red Planet" (2000) starring Val Kilmer and Carrie Anne Moss.  In fact, Watney's resolution of his lack-of- communication-with-Earth trouble is nearly identical to the 'Mars One' team's solution in the 2000 picture, and while reading the final chapters of "The Martian" I could almost hear Moss and Kilmer's voices in place of Weir's Lewis and Watney.
Those final chapters are "way" close to being identical with the closing fifteen minutes of "Red Planet"; without firing off too many spoilers it seems that Kilmer's character Gallagher has to perform nearly the same "surgery" on his escape craft as Watney--the biggest difference being that Gallagher is fending off attacks by a killer robot while he modifies his "lifeboat".

I also got the impression from the final chapters of "The Martian" that Mr. Weir had an appointment that he needed to get to. Things seem a little rushed, there, as the tale draws to a close.  This may have been a device intended to convey the rising tension of the impending escape/rescue, but it seemed to me that there was plenty of drama already evident and that the author was in a bit of a hurry to wrap things up.

So, a few bumps on the road, but overall a fine, fun ride across the rocky plains and dry riverbeds of Mars.

If you haven't read this book, I urge you to pick up a copy of "The Martian" and meet Mark Watney for the
first time.

I envy you that experience.

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