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Book Review - The Martian, And The General Human Tendency To Be Helpful

I “read” many books in audio format. Living in a rural setting + spending quite a bit of time in the car – comes with the territory, I guess. My conservative book-related annual goal is to read twelve books each year – even with the most busy schedule, I figure I can manage to limp through a book a month.

Today, I wrapped up the twelve books (WAYYYYY ahead of schedule) with finishing Andy Weir’s “The Martian”, running AND tearing up through the last ten minutes of the book. Yep, made up story = real tears. That is SO COOL.

One arbitrary rule that I have about books that have been made into movies – if I have even a remote interest in reading a book, I MUST read the book before watching the movie. I followed that rule for everything from Harry Potter to Life of Pi. With “The Martian”, I was so impatient, I actually started the movie, while still finishing the book – sticking to the same rule.

I also tried sticking to a particular format for book reviews – James Clear seems to have a good thing going – summarize the book in three sentences, then capture the main ideas and favorite quotes. I have even tried doing that with few books I read. The thing is… I don’t think I perceive books linearly like that. Yes, I know. Crazy. Books I read tend to trigger dozens of tangents in my mind, one more fascinating (to me) than another. [Remember when I told you about my persistent ideaphoria?]

Someone described The Martian as Robinson Crusoe story, but on Mars. I can definitely see that. Side note: I get a strange satisfaction out of reading the lists of supplies that the survivors find themselves with. Another one – academic reference. Love reading those. *Do you love reading something weird? A phone book, perhaps?

Meanwhile, if you have not read Robinson Crusoe – you are missing out on a cultural reference that has been in use for almost two hundred years. Get on board already. Oh, and those Brits do ok when it comes to writing classics, don’t they? I HAVE been stuck on Dracula for years now, but Stoker was Irish – maybe that’s it?

Did you know The Martian was filmed in Wadi Rum desert in Jordan? Where else? I don’t think you can get that Mars look anywhere on Earth. I have not washed my Salomons for weeks after, trying to preserve that red dust on the soles.

Hanging out in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

I did find all the technical details a bit difficult to follow. Not that they would be hard to follow for your average reader, but my spatial skills are pathetic even in 3D, not to mention when 3D things are being verbally described. Apparently, Weir spent quite a bit of time researching the details, making sure that all things technology were actually accurate. I am curious how this book reads to an engineer (this dude explained it pretty well). Or an astronaut, for that matter.

The movie I loved! It followed the book pretty closely, except for a large chunk of Mark’s journey (and MANY additional problems he faced) being cut. This is why people should always read the book first. [And, side rant – I still have no idea how people (dare to) watch “Serenity” without watching Firefly? OMGGGGG… Just no.]

What I really really really appreciated about the movie is a bit of imagined aftermath past the moment where the book ends. What can I say? I love closure.

[watch out – possible spoiler]….

One of my favorite quotes is from the very end of the book:

[quote]The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollar. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?

Well, okay. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.

If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?[/quote]

I don’t know if NASA would actually go to this much trouble to save ONE person from Mars (or anywhere else, really). It IS a great reminder of that general human helpfulness. We do want to help. This is why the college essays and coach applications that go into mind numbing detail about how they want to help people are so cliche. Of course, you want to help people. Everybody does.

Speaking of being helpful, I found a brand new smart phone on trail today, minutes after finishing the book. It just hung out on the side, all grey and shiny. Luckily, it was not locked, so I was able to call the most recent contact, who then got in touch with the phone’s rightful owner. His name was Brian. He seemed quite relieved to have his phone back.

Little things, right?

Hugs, SOLO


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