Changing perspectives and modes of narration is tricky for any author. However when your debut and most recent novel “The Martian” is made into a motion picture by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon there is expectation. The key element is that by the time most people, including myself, had read it, the announcement of that production was already made so the key element is that in the mind’s eye there was already a sense of personality and something visual to go with the story. Granted the screenplay that eventually made the movie was created in a different structure and shifted time to make it more linear. The storytelling element of The Martian was in journal format which made the isolation of what that lone astronaut was going through on Mars very isolation. Also the way it was structured you had more of a sense of how long he was there and the time passing. The movie seemingly glossed that over. Not by much but it made a difference. I spoke with Andy before the film was released at an event at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and then again when The Martian came out on Blu Ray. The question revolved around structure but Hollywood is a machine and there needs to be some compromise. He also said he was working on his next book which was set on the moon. Enter “Artemis”…a very different monster in more ways than one…and interestingly enough one that has a slightly similar intention of all things to “Downsizing” though it was written long before that film was released. Artemis tells the story of Jazz Basura (I always tend to think of Diz played by Dina Meyer from “Starship Troopers” when I hear that name. Jazz is a woman in her late 20s who maybe never reached her full potential. She works the back hallways as a porter…and a smuggler. The interesting aspect is that Andy gave himself a couple interesting challenges to work again. Like with “Annihilation” which revealed in the second book, that the character Natalie Portman plays was Asian, the story here for at least the 2 main characters (3 if you count Sanchez) are all women of color…which should be awesome when the film adaptation comes (since the rights have already been bought by Fox I believe). Jazz is a whip smart promiscuous Saudi Arabian girl brought up by her Muslim welder father who moved them to the moon when she was 10. She never knew her mother. Add to the top of it the only man she ever loved was stolen from her by her best friend, when it turned out her boyfriend was gay. Again complicated but should play out interestingly on screen. And she has a potty mouth so hopefully an R rating works on this. The head administrator of the entire moon base is a cutthroat economist from Kenya which is now the key way to get to the moon since it is on the equator. The mixing of elements here gives the novel a mixture of “Total Recall”, “Wall Street” and “Moon” if that makes sense. This visually could be made down and dirty but the outside elements including elements like the harvesters (an interesting sequence) and places like the Apollo 11 tourism site might be very interesting if it is done like 2001…like more reality based. The underlying politics and intrigue which push the story permeate through to the end with a taut but made for Hollywood 3rd act and the epilogue perfectly encapsulates the power struggle and the dog-eat-dog mentality that will occupy space just as soon as it does Earth. Like many near future tales this novel works through and through. It appeals to the everyman but is high functioning much like The Martian novel. The aspects of science are key to the plot specifically the creation of oxygen, glass and aluminum. It might not sound terribly exciting on that basis but it takes the monopoly of what “Total Recall” was selling and gives it real world context, right down to the assassin part.
By Tim Wassberg
Self publishing a novel is always a tricky thing. Normally looking at a novel for review I usually select a pre publish gallows copy so there are no pre-ordained expectations. “The Martian” [Andy Weir/Broadway/385pgs] is an interesting example in this regard. I heard about it in a slingshot fashion. The movie has already been shot but I barely looked at the trailers. I had a perception of Matt Damon playing stranded astronaut Watney and Jessica Chastain playing Commander Lewis but beyond that and the fact that Ridley Scott was directing, it was pretty unsaturated in my mind. The thing is what kind of book would pull people in like this. Plus add the fact that both of the lead actors had just been in “Interstellar”, a fairly complex outing, and yet they jumped back into another parallel space arena. The two stories couldn’t be more different but, in a way, they are the same as well. The main character is searching for his identity integrating into an unknown arena. The difference becomes one between the two pictures of philosophy versus practicality. Each one denotes the idea of survival. But the way this book is built will be interesting to see in translation. A similar study would be to look at the film “127 Hours” which tells of a man surviving on a hiking trip. It was modestly budgeted and used some reflective video elements to buffer the time. The interesting device here is that for the first quarter of the book and much of it throughout, the story is told in diary journal entry. For a good part of the novel, Watney is with nobody and his communication with NASA is limited to none. Most of the time, voice over can be attributed to lazy filmmaking but here it is key to the narrative. The trick will be pacing and balance. “127 Hours” was a different exercise. “The Martian” is likely a 150 million dollar movie with a good amount of special effects (though not as much as some), a couple movie stars and the director of “Blade Runner”. Tricky. (As Watney would say) You bet.
But I digress. And that is the great thing Watley does in this novel. He makes fun of himself. His quips in his journals, to himself, to NASA and his crewmates. These quips are great and full of witty and non politically correct humor at times. This is what makes this novel the crossover sensation that it has become. Humor. That is what this novel has that many science fiction novels don’t get. Humor. At many points, I found myself laughing myself because some of his thoughts are just so dead on…and yet they are placed in while describing a distinct technical process. It makes for a quick read and releases the pressure valve. Watmey jokes about disco and countless other elements. These points are great because they are character related and ground the character so that even if he is on a planet by himself, you can identify with him. There doesn’t need to be some large scale action sequence. This is a much simpler story than say “Red Planet” and “Mission To Mars” and infinitely and likely more effective. It is more similar in tone at times with the novel of “Contact” which oddly enough, with its original story, mirrored “Interstellar” in a way. And like that movie (“Contact”) which I read in similar sequence to this novel, the resulting movie, no matter how good or bad it is, will effect the engaging experience the book was. From simple beginnings as Weir started with this book, comes an epic story which works in its ability to explain the most complex of current equations: traveling and surviving an another planet within our reach, in a grounded, intriguing, funny and practical way.