Notes: The Martian by Andy Weir

Bullets of initiation:

  • The Martian is written by Andy Weir, who is a physicist by training. It’s basically science fiction, yet, it I think it is more closer to reality than to most other sci-fi works.
  • A line about the plot: an astronaut named Mark Watney gets trapped on Mars with no hopes of any immediate help. The book is all about how he “sciences the shit out of Mars”!
  • Book well written, audiobook well narrated.
  • Purchase link: Amazon

Use of casual language

Thinking about The Martian in retrospect, the first thing that comes to my mind is the bad-ass language that Watney uses sans hesitation.

“WATNEY: Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.).”

Curses, in any book, are effective at capturing attention and creating spurts of interest. But sometimes, I think authors just use abuses in a desperate attempt to keep their plots interesting. The net result is that you have a text that seems to be screaming abuses at you for no apparent reason. It is like ending a sentence with a hundred exclamation marks in hopes of increasing the exclamation. So when a book uses frequent abuses, I’m usually skeptical about the frequency and relevance of curses.

The abnormally high number of curses in The Martian somehow seems to suit Watney’s situation. In fact, if anything, they reinforce the seriousness of the danger he faces. The curses serve as reminders to Whatney’s frustration; he is an astronaut trapped on Mars, after all! In addition, Watney’s curses are not random f-words floating around. In contrast, they are surprisingly apt, at times serve as ad-hoc explanations for science concepts, and are almost always successful to make me giggle.

“Once I got home, I sulked for a while. All my brilliant plans foiled by thermodynamics. Damn you, Entropy!”

Curses are but part of a larger writing style that Weir has adopted: I’ll call it ‘informal seriousness’. There are jokes, there are irreverent references, and there are curses that add up to an informal writing style. But on the other hand, none of the informal writing is either ambiguous or irrelevant. In short, the curses work as well as any other ‘serious’ word would. Weir seems to have mastered the art of putting pivotal words in a rather blunt manner.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

“If there were no storm, I’d be going directly southwest toward my goal. As it is, going only south, I’m not nearly as fast. I’m traveling 90km per day as usual, but I only get 37km closer to Schiapareli because Pythagoras is a dick.”

Including hard science for general audience and the relevance of scenes on earth

The Martian devotes a decent amount of its word space talking about science (and math); the detail of science included may perhaps even be its foremost USP. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if this level of detail is appropriate for a general sci-fi audience?

Firstly, here is a word about me: I mainly studies the humanities and math in college, but I do have some high school background in the natural sciences. At least, I know enough to understand most of the science in the book. Yet, I think that the scenes of earth were of much more interest to me. I just waited and waited to for the earth scenes to return. Sure, what Watney does on Mars is igneous and clever. But the reactions on the earth carry a much larger emotional weight. As a reader, you may or may not understand the science, but you cannot fail to relate to the emotions. And I think those are as important to this book as the science or math. I find that its easy to underestimate the human appeal of the book by reading reviews about the book.

The film

The Martian is about to be released as a film. Here is the trailer:

I am excited about the film because I’m interested to see how they handle the science. I’m sure they will do good on the feelings part of the story, but it is not quite obvious how much of science they are going to retain. I feel that the movie might do the opposite of what I wrote in the section above; I fear that the movie might extinguish the science so much that it does not seem science at all. I hope that the book gives them enough encouragement to retain a bulk of science.

In conclusion, I think the Martian is a well researched and a thought provoking book. The writing style and the detail-savviness of Weir adds a new dimension of enjoyability to the plot. I think it is a great read, and/or a great listen. Looking forward to the movie.

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