Moby Dick, In Space

The Martian has been compared to Robinson Crusoe. It has been compared to Cast Away and Apollo 13. Financial Times claims that “Gravity meets Robinson Crusoe” in The Martian. I think The Martian is more like Moby Dick – the Red Planet plays Captain Ahab, while our hero Mark Watney is the white whale.

In most of the book, Mark tells us his story of survival, in excruciating technical detail. This struck me Moby Dickesque. Bouts of sarcastic optimism emerge every now and then, amidst all Mark’s resourcefulness – reminiscent of humorous bouts amidst whale-o-phillia in Moby Dick.

Every twenty hours, I’ll have 10 litres of CO2, thanks to the MAV fuel plant. I’ll vent it into Hab via the highly scientific method of detaching the tank from the MAV landing struts, bringing it into the Hab, then opening the valve until it’s empty.
The oxygenator will turn it into oxygen in its own time. Then, I’ll release hydrazine, very slowly, over the iridium catalyst, to turn it into N2 and H2. I’ll direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it. As you can see, this plan provides many opportunities for me to die in a fiery explosion.

I’m not crazy about comparisons, but if comparisons need be made, why make the most obvious one? The one that tells absolutely nothing about the book? “Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 21st century style.” Please!

In a way, Mark Watney is more like Deadpool then like Robinson:

Yes, of course duct tape works in near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

deadpool duct tapeI have to “steal” a bit from WSJ, to quote Mr Weir (LOVE this quote):  “If you get down into the deep details, the science tells you the story,” he said.”  He spent “three years working out the details” which is very obvious in the book even to the uninformed.

Anyway, The Martian is an amazing book. It took about 10 or 20 pages for me to fall head over heels for Mark. It’s so damn easy to get invested into the importance of saving his life, that you can disregard the improbability of him surviving most of the shit he survives during the book.

Every lie has to have a kernel of truth, and the amount of scientific truth behind Andy Weir’s fiction makes The Martian feel real.

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If you read Moby Dick, I’m sure you can appreciate the amount of research and reading Melville had to do in order to write that masterpiece. Just taking out all the whale references (in the pre-Google era) must have been a monumental endeavour.

In Moby Dick, Melville’s insistence on every aspect of whaling (and more) makes the book feel eerily surreal, almost somnambulistic and a bit, well, crazy – reflecting the state of mind of our obsessed Captain. In The Martian, Andy Weir uses science to make Mark’s story feel realistic and plausible.  

But even this disparate treatment of detail brings two books closer together in a way that science serves to shake the foundation of the story – Moby Dick doesn’t feel like a book about whale hunting, and The Martian feels nothing like science fiction.

You can read the first chapter of The Martian here.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. The Martian didn’t strike me as science fiction at all. Is that how they are selling it? Is that how they’ll sell the film of it? I liked it well enough and finished it only because I wanted to find out how they were going to rescue him. It is a bit of a page-turner, and it is funny here and there; I didn’t really think it was well-written, but it was fascinating int terms of the science. What was missing for me was any real sense of what Mars must feel like. Outside of the scientific/gravity/weather stuff, I had little feeling for what the planet really looks like, or what the stars look like when viewed from its surface

    Liked by 1 person

    1. nicollzg says:

      I really enjoyed every aspect of it, particularly the science part of it. I got the impression that Mars was a “killer” place to be 🙂 But yeah, it’s weird that an astronaut never looked up and described the night sky, even as he was navigating by it. I do think a bit more introspection on Mark’s part would have been beneficial to the book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. exactly. am hoping there’s more of it in the movie

        Like

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