Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir--And What About The Movie?

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     A little over a year ago, as I perused the various book lists, I saw the book, The Martian by Andy Weir. I read the short premise of the book, and at that moment decided I wanted to read the book. Because of various promises to read and review certain books, as well as my obligations through NetGalley, The Martian, continued to sit in my virtual to be read (TBR) pile of books untouched.  

     I guess I should say, the book sat there until I realized that the movie would be out in just two days. I grabbed my e-reader device (a kindle) and began reading Andy Weir's book. Since I can't read during work hours, I read every spare minute I could get. While someone else drove, I read. While the family watched a movie, I sat with them and read. But, I couldn't stay up late to read--I had to get a reasonable amount of sleep so I wouldn't be asleep on my feet for work the next day.

     Nonetheless, I did manage to finish the book in two days, October 2, 2015, the day the movie came out. My family, and a dear friend who was joining us, decided they wanted to see the movie on Saturday. And, since today is Saturday, October 3rd, we will all be leaving the house in just a few minutes to see the movie in 3D at our local theater. I'll get back to you after the movie and let you know just how much I liked or hated it...Gotta go now.

    Well, I'm back from the theater, and I suppose I should give you a short synopsis of the book before diving in to discuss it (and a bit about the movie).

In this scene from, The Martian, Mark Watney wakes to a blaring alarm
indicating that his oxygen is at a dangerously low level. Watney quickly
discovers his oxygen is leaving the suit because a sharp piece of debris
punctured his suit...and him. [2]
     Not long after a manned mission to Mars lands and estab- lishes a base from which to conduct scientific exploration, a fast incoming storm threatens to destroy the outpost. Comman- der Lewis notifies the crew that the mission is "scrubbed," and fol- lows protocol in evac- uating the crew. Dur- ing the evacuation Mark Watney is hit by flying debris and thought dead; the team leaves Mars and Mark Watney behind as they head back to planet Earth.

     Mark Watney wakes up to finds himself nearly covered with red Martian sand and pierced by debris, his suit alarm blaring and his oxygen level near depletion. So begins Mark's extraordinary struggle to survive with the limited resources at his disposal. Mark solves one problem after another...until his own "human error" causes an explosion that wipes out much of his work. Mark's engineering and ingenuity enables him to contact Earth. Although Mark is able to overcome many seemingly impossible obstacles, will fortune intervene to save him? Will a rescue ship reach him before he runs out of food, oxygen, water, or hope?

     Although Andy Weir did not title his book, "Robinson Crusoe on Mars," (that one has already been done [3]) he does seem to have taken inspiration from that and/or similar subject matter. Back when I was a kid, my mom and dad bought the first "color" TV on our block. A wave of nostalgia arises because this movie, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, was the very first color show we watched on our new set. Having only watched black and white shows before this made my experience oh, so memorable.

     How is this story similar to The Martian? Well, the most obvious aspects include (1) "a lone" earth man is (2) stranded on Mars  (3) with limited resources, (4) forcing him to rely on his scientific training, (5) and ingenuity, and (5) where he must deal with loneliness, (6) until he is miraculously rescued. I rewatched this old movie on Amazon for the rental price of $2.99 last night--what a blast. Paul Mantee even meets another humanoid whom he dubbs, "Friday," from the original Robinson Crusoe story. This old movie stars Adam West (2 years before he became Batman) who dies early in the story, Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin with Byron Haskins Directing.

A FREE E-BOOK of Daniel Defoe's,
Robinson Crusoe, may be downloaded
from Amazon by clicking
on the link, here[4]
     Of course, even this classic film story got its inspiration from somewhere, and that would most likely be Daniel Defoe's, "Robinson Crusoe." Defoe's story focuses on a man who is shipwrecked and castaway on a remote island. He, too must use his wits to survive and to adapt to a more primitive life style...and, of course, find and save a native cannibal, whom he called, "My man, Friday."

     And, where did Daniel Defoe get his inspiration to write the hugely popular and enduring story? Apparently, many have made suggestions as to the source of Defoe's inspiration for the book.

     One of the more popular accounts focuses on a man by the name of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, who was rescued by the "Woodes Rogers' Expedition," in 1709. Others say this explanation is incorrect. The counter belief was that Selkirk's rescuer, Rogers, wrote his own account of the voyage entitled, "Cruising Voyage," published in 1712, relaying Selkirk's experiences with many notable differences from Defoe's book. [5]
One adaptation of Robinson Crusoe,
is this opera by Offenbach. [6]

     Still others claim Defoe was influenced by either a Latin or English translation of Ibn Tufail's novel, "Hayy ibn Yaqdhan."  This is an earlier, but similar-type novel with the setting being a desert island. [4] Yet, another account is told by Robert Knox who related his story of abduction by the King of Ceylon in 1659, entitled, "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon." [4]

     And then, there is the claim by Daniel Defoe, himself. He has said that he truly was only the editor of the story. Defoe claimed that the true author of the book was a man by the name of Robinson Crusoe who was still alive in the years 1719-20. [5]

     And, there are many, many more claims about the true inspiration for, "Robinson Crusoe." Surely as numerous as the multitude of books, plays, operas, and movies that have been inspired by the story.

     Before I leave the discussion about inspiration for the book (and movie), The Martian, I have to mention that one book and film classic will inevitably arise. I speak, of course of Swiss Family Robinson. To the left, here, is the display for the movie, but let's not forget the book. Swiss Family Robinson (the book) may be downloaded for FREE from Amazon by clicking the link, here. [7] If you would like to see the movie, you can either purchase it from Amazon or rent it to watch (click, here). [8]

     Finally, the two notable stories often mentioned in the same breath with The Martian are Apollo 13, and Cast Away, with The Martian being described as a cross between the other two. Really! Really, two great stories. Ironically, Tom Hanks stars in both wonderful films. Great acting. Resourcefulness shown in both films, limited resources, hope kept alive through trying times, near-death experiences....You get it. I love both of these films and am inspired to go back and watch them, yet, again.

     In preparation for this blog post about Andy Weir's, The Martian, I not only read Weir's book, I watched, Robinson Crusoe on Mars [3], Swiss Family Robinson [8], The Extraordinary Tale of William Buckley (a docudrama) [11], Mr. Robinson Crusoe [12], and, tonight I'm watching Cast Away [10], and Apollo 13 [9], as well. [See also, James (Jim) Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger's book, Apollo 13 [13], and Cast Away: The Shooting Script, by William Broyles. [14] ]

     While I was motivated to get The Martian read before I went to see the movie (I prefer to read books before they get to the big screen) this quick read was not an onerous job for me. I opened to page one and was instantly hooked.

     Immediately, I thought of the opening lines of another famous book, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." To be chosen as an astronaut to be part of a manned mission to Mars would be the best of times. To be left behind on the foreign planet when your crew mates left, the worst. [16]

     Andy Weir utilizes Mark Watney's daily recorded log for NASA as a way to communicate to the reader those things Mark Watney wants an unidentified "someone" to hear after the records are eventually found, perhaps "a hundred years" into the future. The first Log Entry: Sol 6, has Watney saying, "I'm pretty much fucked." Now, if you are someone who cannot abide cuss words used in a novel, this novel may not be for you. Watney will pepper this cuss word through out the story. 'Why does author, Andy Weir, have Watney speak like this, you might ask?

     Watney is an intelligent man, he is an engineer and a botanist; so, if Watney is an intelligent man, educated, and an astronaut, why utilize this "character defect"? Ask yourself, "Would Watney be interesting if he were just a nerd who thinks of nothing other than science?" I mean, really, would it be that interesting to hear him constantly spouting equations and scientific theories? You know the answer to that is "No." What if Watney were a deeply spiritual man who constantly crossed himself, said prayers aloud, and never used a foul word? That, too, would get old, pretty fast.

     With the very first sentence of the book, Andy Weir begins showing us Mark Watney's personality. It may initially be used for shock value, but Mark Watney continues to swear--what about that? If you think about it, intelligent people who are effective at communicating with others...well, they use precisely the words they need to get their point across. If Watney had some very strong emotions at realizing he was left alone on the planet and was highly likely to die, mightn't he cuss? Don't you think it would just help him to relieve some of his stress?

     I think Andy Weir is a cagey little devil--he sets up Watney as a bit of a firebrand, right off the bat. Watney even tells us that he will explain the basics and how the missions work, "for any layman who might be reading this." Watney calls things "pretty cool," and wonders why he wasn't "more dead" (this one reminds me of The Princess Bride--remember?--"mostly dead."?). So, most of the time Watney speaks like an ordinary "layperson," himself, with cussing, off-handed humor, and schtick of all sorts, and curiosity about "how the Cubs are doing."[12]

     And while we are speaking of "more dead/mostly dead," I love the humor all through the book. How about this pithy one: "In the event a crewman dies on Mars, he stays on Mars" [7]. Ho, ho, ho! What happens on Mars, stays on Mars? Really? Pithy and sneaky to be sure. So, is the dialogue Andy Weir uses in the book sufficient to develop Mark Watney's character? Well, obviously, no. It does, however go a long way in showing us Mark's wacky personality.

     Another reason that Andy Weir has Mark Watney use the "log" to relate the story of what is going on in his life and what he is doing to keep himself alive is that, psychologically, if Mark is busy doing, he will not fall into morbid depression. Mark is the only one who can keep himself from literally falling apart. While Mark may have to deal with his environment as it falls apart--in a wide variety of ways--Mark must keep the one resource together that he really needs to survive...himself.

     Related tangentially to the "Mark has to keep himself together" feat is the question, "Is Mark's ingenuity and indefatigability realistic?" I believe it is. First, given Mark's personality that he is confident in his abilities and that NASA signed him on as an Engineer/Botanist are two big pluses that he is competent to keep the mission's scientific equipment going. Mark needs both of these attributes to succeed.

     When you combine all of Mark's positive attributes (intelligence, education and training, self-confidence, adventurous nature, risk taking and the ability to "live on the edge,"), with Mark's wacky sense of humor and irreverent speech patterns, I think Andy Weir has put together a realistic astronaut. I don't know about you, but I think astronauts need the ability to master their fears. I was taught that "action cures fear!" So...Mark Watney is also an action guy.

     Astronaut's need to be different than the average person. An astronaut needs to be adventurous to risk going so far into space. Moreover, an astronaut needs to be able to make adjustments (in work and self-care) as needed in order to survive. And remember, Mark Watney is highly intelligent and ingenious. If you put those personality traits together with a need to survive, you have a Mark Watney personality.

     While I like how Andy Weir developed Mark Watney's personality, the secondary part of the cast were more like two dimensional characters. They were there on Earth . They did their part. While we saw the beginnings of development, they were just not fleshed out. Now, one might say that was a fatal flaw to the book. Me...I'm not so sure.

     In photography (any art, really) you focus your lens to make the subject matter clear and crisp to stand out from the background--you may choose to let the background go slightly out of focus. This technique is used to draw attention to the subject matter.

     See the photo from the movie on the left, here? The background is blurred while the plant and Mark's finger as he gently touches the plant are in sharp focus. Your eyes do not look at the background, they focus on the plant. It can be argued that that is what Andy Weir has done in the book with the secondary characters. After all, Weir seems to know what he is doing and has otherwise written his story well, turning it into an absolutely entertaining yarn.

     Finally, just a word about Andy Weir's research and scientific basis for the movie. Since so many others have reviewed that aspect of Andy Weir's book (and critique of the movie), I will just add that (it's been mentioned by Andy Weir and others) much work has been done as research for the book. Well done, Andy Weir.

     Because I'm fairly sure most of you are really interested in the movie, I have for you, today, a short movie trailer from YouTube. [23] Please enjoy:


     Well, I promised you I'd tell you how much I loved or hated the movie, The Martian. In three short words: "I loved it!"

     Movies are not always adapted well from books. One of the most notorious book successes and movie failures--of which I have done a book review--is Endless Love by Scott Spencer. While I found the book to be well-written, the movie and its remake are among the worst ever done in cinema history. In my post of February 1, 2014, I wrote:
In fact, Leonard Maltin of Google Books: Leonard Maltin's 2010 Movie Guide, panned the film (along with other numerous critics); Leonard Maltin called it "a textbook example of how to do everything wrong in a literary adaptation." Maltin decries the film as "one of the worst films of its time." (To see this book review click, here.)
      The Martian, starring Matt Dam- on, not only has great cinematogra- phy and obviously great direction by Ridley Scott, a wonderful screen- play by Drew God- dard, and a wonder- ful supporting cast, it has Andy Weir's wonderful book on which to base this movie. The adaptation was really, really good! [25]

     A word about Matt Damon before we close for today. Matt Damon really sells this movie. While I LOVED the book by Andy Weir, Matt Damon brought Mark Watney to life. Matt's facial expressions were so enjoyable to see, his body language was sublime, and Matt delivered all the vocal nuances needed to really bring out Watney's personality. He made Mark Watney believable. In other words, Matt did a great acting job. I enjoyed the whole move--I would love to see it again, and am planning on buying the movie when it is released to the public.

     I realize we have really only scratched the surface as far as topics on which we can write and analyze. Nonetheless, I sincerely hope I've provided enough information for understanding the book and the movie. I would encourage anyone who likes to read, to pick up this book, hardcover, paperback or ebook, and read it. Given all that I have said above about Andy Weir's book, The Martian, I am proud go give this excellent book a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 (If I were giving a full review of the movie, I would, likewise give 4.5 stars out of 5 stars award.). I highly recommend both the book and the movie.

     Thank you for joining me this week...we looked at a dramatically different book than we did last week (last week: On the Graphic Novel by Santiago Garcia). Next time I have something for you I think you will like. I will be bringing you a review of a graphic novel. This is a new original story from the world of Harry Dresden. The book is, Down Town: Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. So, I hope I have stimulated your curiosity, a bit--to see how this book review will differ from those I have done in the past. Join me next time for some fun and an exciting original story.

Sharon's words for the week: Often we may be at a loss for what to do for another person who seems to need a little encouragement or kindness. In those times give a warm smile. This is my true story: At college I was walking between classes feeling down and discouraged, frowning. I looked up and made eye contact with a young man, his face made beautiful by the warmest smile I've ever seen. I could tell this young man saw my sadness and wanted to cheer me up. I never saw him again, but this wonderful, kind person now lives in my memory. When I think of that smile, I feel lighter and happier to know that there are kind people in the world.

"A warm smile is the universal language of kindness."
                                       --William Arthur Ward

     Until next time . . .
This flower is a white with red center "Rose of Sharon." [29]

. . . many happy pages of reading.

My friends, I send you my love and good wishes for a wonderful week.


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[2] "The Martian is Coming." Retrieved 10-04-15.
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[19] "He's Only Mostly Dead." Retrieved 10-06-15.
[20] "I'm falling apart." [nonsense8] Retrieved 10-06-15.
[21] "Clip Art Image: A Smiling Astronaut Standing on the Surface of Mars." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[22] "Matt Damon's New Mars Movie: Can Plants Really Grow There?" Retrieved 10-07-15.
[23] "The Martian - Official Trailer [HD] - 20th Century Fox." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[24] "How 'The Martian' Would Have Been Different With Water on Mars." [09-29-15; peter scriretta] Retrieved 10-07-15.
[25] "The Martian (2015)" Retrieved 10-07-15.
[26] "The Martian is Hands Down the Best Thriller of the Year." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[27] "4.5 out of 5 stars." [graphic only] Retrieved 10-07-15.
[28] "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town Gets Hardcover Treatment." Retrieved 10-07-15.
[29] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." Retrieved 10-07-15.