The past month I’ve enjoyed reading The Martian by Andy Weir. I liked the movie a lot when I watched it back in February, and really wanted to read the book soon after I saw the film. I think the book and movie work really well together; there are some things in the movie that didn’t make sense without the book and vice versa. My only complaint with the book was the excessive cursing. I’m of the mindset that bad language doesn’t belong in art of any kind – music, literature, etc.
Question for this study come from the back of the paperback novel and are copyright 2014 Random House, LLC. There were 20 questions for this book, which is a lot, so I’m going to cherry pick the ones I like the best.
As with all Book Club posts, a spoiler alert is in effect.
1. What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author make us care about Mark?
I think simply being the main character is enough to make people root for you in a survival story. Likeability doesn’t hurt, though, and Mark Watney (the astronaut abandoned on Mars and title character in the novel) is definitely likeable (despite his cursing). I’m not convinced I necessarily “identify with” Mark, but I enjoyed his story nonetheless. The author makes us care about Mark through the use of the log book entries. We’re inside his head (using first person narration) for much of the novel; when you know the inner thoughts of a character, it’s nearly impossible not to care about them.
2. Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?
As heartbreaking as such a decision would be to make, yes, I think it was the right call. They could leave their colleague and friend, whom they were sure had perished in the storm, in order to get the rest of the crew home safely, or they could continue searching for him and risk the lives of the other five members. I don’t think there really was any other choice for them. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation, but I think they did the right thing.
3. Do you find the science and technology behind Mark’s problem solving accessible? How did that information add to the realism of the story?
Despite being quite technological, the author did a good job also keeping it understandable (for the most part). I don’t think the story would have been realistic at all without all that stuff. The main character was a scientist, and science played a crucial role in his survival. It wouldn’t have made sense for a scientist to be stuck somewhere – on a scientific mission, no less – and not be thinking all the time about how to best use his skill set and knowledge to help him.
4. To what extent does Mark’s log serve as his companion? Do you think it’s implicit in the narrative that maintaining a log keeps him sane?
Mark’s logbook is to him what Wilson the volleyball was to Chuck (Tom Hanks) in Castaway. When you’re in a situation like this, you have to have someone – or something – to talk to, even if it’s not a real something. Humans were created to commune with God and each other, so being solitary for so long can definitely be detrimental to us. The logbook provides Mark a way of communicating that definitely helps to keep him sane during his solitary confinement on Mars.
That said, I don’t think the narrative said (or even implied) that this was the case. I got the impression that the logbook was something Mark was just accustomed to keeping. Perhaps it was required by NASA, and he just kept the habit up even when the entries didn’t have to do with how he was surviving or what he was doing to move forward in his quest for rescue.
5. There’s no mention of Mark having a romantic relationship on Earth. Do you think that makes it easier or harder to endure his isolation? How would the story be different if he were in love with someone back home?
This is a really great question, and one that I thought a lot about during the reading of the novel. It would make a great fan fiction story!
Based on the scenes we see of his crewmates having Skype conversations with their loved ones while aboard the spaceship, I think not having a romantic relationship waiting for him makes his situation easier. I know myself, and as horrified and frightened as I would be in Mark’s place, I’d be an even bigger mess knowing my husband was at home not knowing what was happening with me. Being single makes the situation bearable.
If Mark wasn’t single, the story would have had one more layer of emotion, and that may have made it even better than it was. There would have been a lot more opportunity for heartwrenching scenes, both during his time on Mars and when he returns to Earth. While the story was very streamlined the way it’s written, it might have been just a little better with a romantic interest.
6. To what extent do you think guilt played a part in the crew’s choice to go back to Mark? To what extent loyalty? How would you explain the difference?
It was 100% guilt.
It was also 100% loyalty.
Of course they felt guilty for having left him there; they’d be monsters if they didn’t. Especially Commander Lewis, the leader of the crew. But they were also fiercely loyal to their comrade. You don’t spend the kind of time together that this crew did (a couple of years of training plus 9+ months in the spaceship) and not develop a sense of loyalty to each other. It’s the kind of bond not many people get to experience.
The difference between guilt and loyalty is easy because they’re not the same thing at all. Guilt is an emotion you feel when you’ve done something wrong – or at least when you think you’ve done something wrong. Loyalty is friendship, but deeper. It’s what happens when you care about the other person as much or more than you care about yourself. To a certain extent, loyalty isn’t so different from love. But it’s very different from guilt.
Despite that, it was still 100% both that caused the crew to go back for Mark. And they did the right thing.
Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog, At Home: where life happens, to read her answers to some (or all, I’m not sure) of the book club questions for The Martian.
Until next month,