SPOILER ALERT – This is my review of, and comments about The Martian by Andy Weir
I just finished my third (yes, 3rd) reading of Andy Weir’s The Martian, novel. What I really like, in fact what I find analogous to my own (unfortunately, non-fiction) adventure, is the whole survival shtick. Really bad things happen, and the main character finds ways to survive and go on. Not only does he survive, he does it with humor. He is completely alone, pretty much screwed, and he doesn’t give up.
However the realism is lost in the last two pages (trying not giving anything away here) by what feels, to me, like – and I really hope it’s so, an editor or publisher’s directive to give the story something movie producers call “a higher level of sell” (essentially the “moral of the story” or a theme) something preachy, and usually contrived. In this case, here it is:
An excerpt from, The Martian by Andy Weir
I think about the sheer number of people who pulled together just to save my sorry ass, and I can barely comprehend it. …
The cost for my survival must have been … all to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?
… I know the answer to that, … 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 ass holes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. …
Personally, I think the rest of the novel is brilliant: an absolutely great read. But, there’s a couple of paragraphs, seemingly stapled in at the end, that are jarringly out of place. As a real life practitioner of falling through the cracks and needing to survive (Martian style), I (and likely, a vast number of others) can attest to the delusional absurdity of that awkward, two paragraph, closing reflection. Albeit, the main character is on drugs when he makes those woozy assessments/statements, but does that grant the writer license to sell-out/cheapen/vandalize a great work? I’m hoping it’s Andy Weir’s way complying with an editor’s directive.
Real life is different – it’s real. Most people will never face survival on their own, or huge trials that can end their lives in a heartbeat. Most will never experience the need for complete self reliance. I’m guessing booksellers fear exposing people to even a whiff of reality, to any thought the world isn’t warm and fuzzy and generous and caring. Their marketing has proven a direct correspondence between raising uneasy doubts about happy endings and falling book sales.
In The Martian, our hero survived only because he did what needed to be done and did it himself; entirely on his own. That is the crux of what makes this story realistic and, for lack of a better word, inspiring. A far more realistic, but commercially nonviable plot would be: exactly what our hero did, but NASA officials, upon discovering satellite imagery showing the guy alive on the surface of Mars would bury the evidence because it would be embarrassing, then they’d redirect the satellites to prevent anyone else finding out they left a guy behind on another planet. The novel’s premise would be a story recreated from our hero’s diaries, discovered with his desiccated corpse, years in the future.
Then again, I didn’t write it. However, the message that rings through, for me, from The Martian, is that you need to save yourself because nobody else will.