Book #98: The Martian (2011)

martian-audioAuthor: Andy Weir
Language: English
Length: 653 minutes (10 hours, 53 minutes)
Finished listening on: 20 January 2016

It took me a few more weeks after watching the movie to finish the audiobook of The Martian, and it was enjoyable to relive the story, in essentially greater detail.

Of course, the biggest difference is that the movie was much shorter than the book and cut out a few scenes, and that the typed journal entries of the book become video logs in the movie, but I was mildly surprised to find that most of the lines from the movie are lifted directly from the book. I think the biggest real difference was the way that they discover the guy is still alive on Mars – in the book it’s a protracted effort after discovering an anomaly, but in the movie they see two photos that don’t match up. There, that’s it. Oh, I guess the very end is slightly different – a ridiculous suggestion is actually pulled off in the movie and not the book.

And of course, the depth is the other big difference. There’s a lot that happens in the movie that’s glossed over, but in the book the author doesn’t let you get away without a full in-depth description of why it would happen that way. And that was very interesting. As I mentioned in my previous review, of the movie, I’d already started listening to the book by the time I watched the movie, so I’d had a headstart on the first few chapters, and noticed a few of the times when they glossed things over in the movie, and had a deeper understanding of why one thing or the other exploded.

But I did notice while reading this that the narrator character comes across as much more of a whiny dudebro than Matt Damon does in the movie. His sense of humour is very high-schoolish. There’s a lot of unnecessary f-bombing, presumably because the narrator thinks it’s edgy. The chipper, slightly sarcastic manner was there in the movie too, but it’s stronger here – I can’t decide whether this was a good or bad thing. Later I read that the book was originally self-published, and it kind of shows in some places – I think first time authors should always let an editor see their work.

The other thing is that the structure is very repetitive. I talked about manufacturing conflict in my last review (of a Thai film), and this does so in its plot very heavy-handedly. It reads like a series of episodes where the main character messes up in some way, or some kind of natural disaster happens, and he has to be resourceful and find his way out of it. Just when you think he’s fine, something else happens, to the point where about five different things happen to him during a journey and I was just listening to it thinking “okay, what now?” I just felt there could have been more inventive ways to make the book exciting than to have yet more disasters befall the main character.

In fact, I think the book makes him essentially take a step back a few times, for example when he loses contact with Earth eventually, which the movie didn’t do. A clear progression of the plot from one situation to the final result would have been better, and wouldn’t have come across so disjointed.

I can see why this ended up happening though. The book is very thoroughly researched, and I think that the author saw problem after problem that could occur when a man gets stranded on Mars, and sought to include as many of them as he could in the book. I think a simpler story followed by an appendix might have worked better for this.

One more thing, and that is that the audiobook’s reader (let’s name and shame: R.C. Bray) annoyed me a little with his pronunciation of en route, a phrase that comes up more often than you’d think in this book. Is it really so difficult to get right?

I think I prefer the movie for its simplicity. It’s rare I get to say that. The book is really good, aside from its pacing problems, but the movie clinches it for me. Go see that and if you enjoy it, read the book to get more of the background detail, that’s what I recommend.

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