[ANOTHER belated mid-2016 book]
Okay, this is definitely among my top-ten list of best books read this year.
I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi, I’ll admit, but this is a great example of the genre at its best, when it impresses the hell out of me and leaves me with no doubt why I’m not equipped to tackle sci-fi in my own career.
I’ve learned since that the author crowd-sourced his research as he posted the first version online, chapter by chapter, which explains a lot. It’s a bit of a relief that no man that talented of a writer also happens to know just that much science in so many different fields, plus some insight into how NASA works (as well as decent proficiency in geopolitical issues).
This book is just a top-class example of an entertaining and educational read, one that is fully accessible to a wide audience while never dumbing down the content. The protagonist (Mark Watney) and his voice were just brilliant, a very real character you could fully imagine as someone equipped with the scientific knowledge to survive, psychologically hardy as astronauts must be, but also laden with familiar weaknesses that everyone has (such as hating disco music and sometimes driven to despair).
What’s also amazing is how funny he often is, despite how dire the circumstances. This is a classic tale of man vs. nature (albeit Martian nature), but not as humorless as I often see in the genre.
Now let’s talk about the movie, which I actually saw first (probably a good thing). Granting that it needed to be condensed into a couple hours, they captured the heart of the story and the character, though they couldn’t resist giving Commander Lewis an elevated role in Watney’s rescue (though it led to a hell of a cinematic scene, so I really can’t complain).
I also found it funny that book!Watney accurately predicted the movie version of his reunion, which indeed the movie couldn’t resist doing (with a token nod toward his smelliness).
I think the movie paid more diligence toward the psychological trauma to Watney’s long isolation and near-death brushes, as seen in how he’s crying right before he leaves Mars’ surface, and also what appears to be the effects of scurvy and severe malnutrition (although the book mentions he had loads of vitamins — still, surely the movie was more realistic that way).
The only thing that left me unsatisfied (but could’ve been a whole book of its own) was the lack of a deep dive into the social effects of Watney’s marooning on Mars. I would’ve loved to see the cultural impact across the nation and the world, which we only briefly glimpsed at times in the book and movie.