TIt’s been a while since I’ve considered myself a reader. I went through a period in my early twenties where I read everything and kept logs and lists of titles, hung out in bookstores, and identified with the “reader” title pretty heavily. That’s been gone for some time now; the flame slowly extinguished and I ceased following literature. In line at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 I was chatting with a guy, Johnny C, who recommended all sorts of anime and comic titles that I needed to consume. One of the titles was Ready Player One, the novel by Ernest Cline. For the next nine months I heard the title repeated over and over by other people and then eventually Steven Spielberg was named to direct a feature film based on the book. Much like I did with Tolkein’s series, I made myself read the book before the movie so that I knew and could appreciate the source material. Only in 2015 by “read the book” I really mean “listen to the audiobook,” which I did during my daily commute. I loved the book.
While I was reading Ready Player One I kept finding repeated exposure to the title of Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian. I heard it from my pop culture sherpas and then I heard Google+ say that it was going to be a challenge transferring the tale from book to film. That officially put the book on my radar. I watched the first movie teaser and the Comic-Con 2015 NASA/The Martian panel and I was sold. This was definitely a case of read the book before seeing the movie. I listened to the audiobook in August. I loved the book.
I’m not going to spoil anything here. The premise of The Martian is that astronauts are landing on Mars when something goes wrong, the mission is aborted, and a presumed dead crew member is left behind. He’s alive, though, and faced with the puzzle of staying alive until the next mission arrives more than a year later. He has a very limited supply of resources and no one knows he’s still alive. The story is mainly told through journal entries made by the stranded astronaut, Mark Watney, with occasional jumps to Earth and the crew that left him on Mars.
The Martian is a very hard science fiction novel. It employs knowledge and technology that we already have plus technology that NASA has in development for actual travel to Mars. Weir originally published the story online where it drew the attention and criticism of science minds. Rather than merely grumble, some of those minds reached out to Weir and helped him modify the story to add scientific and technical accuracy. Where the film Gravity drew the ire of scientists for bungling major facts, The Martian has been fact checked by scientists. It’s still fiction, though, so when it encounters a pothole of scientific ignorance it makes an educated guess and steps over the hole. It’s also worth noting that the book underscores the hardness of its science by detailing math and processes and formulas. Weir makes sure to keep that stuff readable and uses Watney’s voice to make the important stuff clear to any readers who didn’t follow.
I loved The Martian. From the first chapter to the last I enjoyed every element of the story and every character in it. The story took turns that I didn’t anticipate and it felt like it accelerated as it went. I know that my desire to return to the book grew stronger as I went, wanting to encounter his new dilemmas and to know the outcome of does he or doesn’t he. My enthusiasm for the book has rolled into enthusiasm for the movie. I have watched all of the promo materials and I am very eagerly anticipating the feature’s release. In fact, this is one of those rare movies that I feel inclined to watch on an IMAX screen and maybe even in 3D. It’s always hard to translate a book into a movie (well, unless the book is The Princess Bride). From everything I’ve seen I think they’ve done an admirable job. Watney seems a bit kookier than I imagined him and the astronaut crew is a little less cowboy, but the grittiness and spectacle of Mars and outer space appear to be intact. I am really pleased that I read the book before seeing the movie. It has transformed the film from one that looks interesting to one for which I’d stand in line on a hot day. I recommend reading the novel or listening to the audiobook (11 hours) beforehand. Weir created such wonderful tension that his work shouldn’t be passed over for a movie. It’s a great story told in a great voice. The movie releases on October 2, so there’s still time. More than Ready Player One, The Martian has stoked my desire to read again.