Science The Shit Out It

I read a lot of books. A lot a lot of books. So, when I say that the best book I've read this year is Andy Weir's The Martian, it isn't because the only books I've read this year are Andy Weir's The Martian and a repair manual for a 1997 Chevy Lumina. My bibliographic intake for this year has some depth to it, and right on top of the ol' quality pile is Andy Weir's The Martian. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you go out, get yourself a copy, and enjoy (do it now so it doesn't look like you're following a trend when the film comes out).

I like it for a lot of reasons. The first line of the book is, "Well, I'm fucked." And that is a superb way of getting a reader's attention, setting tone, and establishing a base line of events. But more than that (much more, in fact) is the hardness of the science in this piece of science fiction, but able to maintain that hardness without ever falling into technobabble. The entire novel details painstaking scientific acumen and achievement, and does so entirely in layman's terms. It also has one of the most expressive and realistic sense of humour I've read in a long time without being an intentional comedy book. Coincidentally, today's XKCD sums it up the book nicely, if super reductively.

When I heard they were making a film of it, I was cautiously excited. When I heard that Matt Damon would be playing the stranded astronaut Mark Watney, I was ecstatic. I cannot overstate how perfect the casting of Damon is for Watney. In fact, the entire cast (including Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor) is pretty much perfect. This appears to be one of those rare instances where a cast has been assembled that uniformly fit to the characters they'll be playing, at least in principle. The only fly in the ointment: Ridley Scott is directing. There was a time when Ridley's name would have been reason to celebrate and that time was the nineteen eighties. Scott's output of late has been the textbook definition of disappointing. From the mess that was Prometheus, to the downright bizarre Exodus, and all the strange crime drama that he's peppered in between, the last decade and half have showcased a filmmaker decidedly not at the top of his game. The last movie of Scott's that was domestically successful was 2007's American Gangster, a film you forgot existed until just now. Arguably, the last good movie he made was Matchstick Men.

So, as long as the script doesn't get too embellish-y (it's from Cabin in the Woods and Daredevil co-writer Drew Goddard, so I think we're in good hands there), and Scott sticks to what made the novel work, as well as drawing deep on those isolation instincts from Alien, while keeping the humour up, hopefully it'll work. It appears though that they've already fallen into a a bit of the trap they did with Prometheus, in building a viral marketing campaign around the film. In that film's case, the viral stuff ended up better than the film. In The Martian's case, they are (smartly) using the time between now and the November release to do what a real mission to Mars would: keep us up to date. After the jump, I've included the first of the Ares 3 diaries, which will introduce us to the characters, and to framework of the film (the novel is written in diary entries, and it appears video logs have taken their place in the film).

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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