I’m pregnant. This has little to do with The Martian, other than the fact that I find myself trying to make it through at least a fraction of my TBR list before the baby’s arrival.* And this book has been sitting on that list since the movie adaptation was released in 2015.
What’s more relevant here is that A) I absolutely love this movie, and B) every book I’ve read since October of last year has been written by a women, save for this and Elton John’s memoir. Both have definitely colored by thoughts on this novel.
Having now read The Martian, I can say that its movie counterpart is an amazing adaptation. I liked it before, but have an even greater appreciation for it now. The movie very smartly kept the best parts of the story (and much of the best dialogue), while eschewing parts that I felt bogged the book down – that is, a lot of the science talk.
Don’t get me wrong, the science is what makes the story. It’s just that print isn’t the most dynamic way to present this information. These parts of the story are often presented through protagonist Mark Watney’s mission logs, a framing device that I quickly bored me. It’s one thing to have Matt Damon explaining how he plans to make it rain on Mars, particularly because the audience also gets to see it. It’s quite another to read paragraphs of explanation, immediately followed by more paragraphs explaining where his math was off.
The most enjoyable parts were the chapters that are structured as a traditional novel. These are the most cinematic portions of the book, and as I prefer a “show, don’t tell” approach to storytelling, the movie obviously has a huge advantage. Maybe if I came from a STEM background I’d appreciate the book’s math and science details more. But, as it stands, the movie gives me just enough to move the story forward, without feeling like I’ve been dropped into a chemistry class (or botany, or physics… there really is a lot of science here).
While I knew that seeing the movie first would affect how I received the book, I wasn’t expecting the author’s gender to have any bearing. So, it came as a surprise when certain passages would jump out, reminding me that a guy had written this.
I’m in no way saying that this book is somehow misogynistic or anti-feminist or not worth reading. I’d argue quite the opposite. It’s just that there are details that would perhaps be written differently – or left out entirely – had the author not been a man. And the reason I noticed this is because I happen to have been reading a lot of books written by women.
Reading more women authors officially began in January, after my classics book club realized that we had been reading a lot of (white) dudes. In an effort to reach beyond the traditional white male canon, we decided to only read women authors in 2020. However, when I looked back at my 2019 reading list, I noticed that the last several books I read that year also happened to be written by ladies. It’s not something I planned (aside from the 12 from the book club selections), but it’s cool that it’s worked out that way.
So, when a character describes a female astronaut as being the young, hot one or when Watney casually drops that he’s really horny after months alone on Mars, I took notice. Do we really need to know that one of the astronauts is so attractive that the woman commander had to pull the guys aside and warn them not to hit on her? I’d argue no; it’s not even that relevant to the thin romantic “subplot” that it’s brought up in context to. And would a NASA astronaut really decide to commit his sexual frustrations to the public record? Maybe, especially if he’d been stranded alone for years? People are weird, but again I didn’t feel like it added anything to the character.
These are just two examples, and for the most part these parts were small, throwaway lines. They’re the type of thing I might not have noticed otherwise. But since I’ve predominantly been reading works written from a female perspective, they stood out the same way my book club reading has made me hyper-aware of the casual racism and sexism (which for the record, seem to come from men and women authors pretty equally) that pervades so many of the classics.
All said, The Martian was an enjoyable read, though it’s not for everyone. If you’re a casual fan of STEM topics, then watching the movie is probably enough. For anyone who wants a deep dive into the math and science of it all, do both. The book is a fun read, and the movie is full of great performances. Either (or both) are well worth your time.
*Also, it often feels like an alien has been growing inside of me. Though that has more bearing on my thoughts about the Alien franchise than it does on this book/movie.