OMG Read This! Or, 5 Reasons to Read the Book First

the martian

OMG guys, read the book. Then see the movie. Then see the movie again. Then read the book again. Then just basically stalk Matt Damon.

Sometimes when I really, truly love something, I have a difficult time adequately describing exactly what specifically it is that I loved, and why you should give a care. Take The Martian and my verbal diarrhea above. That fangirl gibberish is literally what I sent my editor when asked what I was going to write about this month and, strangely, it fits perfectly.

There are oodles of posts out there reviewing in detail both the book by Andy Weir (debut novel that was originally self-published–keep that in mind, fellow NaNoWriMo peeps!) and the Matt Damon box-office smash hit movie. That’s not what this is. This is me trying to tell you why it’s so very important to read the book before you watch the movie.

  1. The obvious snobbery. “Oh, you didn’t read the book? I see…” said with disdain and a mouth full of fake-buttery popcorn. I’ve never actually been a book snob; I read for entertainment at every given opportunity and tend to stay far away from award-winners and Oprah’s book club picks. So when I can actually flash the book snob card, I don’t hesitate, as it’s a rare thrill and I can be that shallow.
  2. The book will have the details that make your heart sing. I don’t care how good the movie is; there’s really no way to get all the detail out on screen, unless you want your film to be 18 hours long. In the case of The Martian, much of the story is told through Mark Watney’s journal entries. You can believe the film is not narrated start-to-finish by Matt Damon. That would test even my patience. Instead, the director made selective use of narration, sometimes leaving patches of silence, which actually works for this stranded-in-space story.
  3. You may discover a new favorite author. I know I’m not the only one who tends to read books that are definitely not candidates for film. The books being made into movies are outside my wheelhouse, and by reading one of them I’m exposing myself to different voices and perspectives.
  4. You’ll know when it’s safe to get refills or hit the restroom. I love experiencing film in the theater, as both the picture and sound quality are usually above and beyond anything I could replicate at home. However, there’s no pause button, so you really have to take a gamble when choosing the best time for a refill on popcorn or a trip to the loo. Not so when you already know the order of events. You have a mental crystal ball that will tell you when it’s safe to rush out and see to your needs.
  5. You might get a more complete ending. Let’s face it: The Martian book ends rather abruptly. You get a general sense of completion in terms of “did Watney get rescued or not?,” but there’s no epilogue to tie it up with a pretty red bow. The movie, however, gave me that sense of closure and a feeling that I really knew what became of all of the main characters.

Full disclosure: the whole reading-the-book-and-then-seeing-the-screen-adaptation-thing is something I rarely ever do. But after my experience with The Martian, I am making it my new standard MO. I’ve seen The Martian twice now, but you can bet it’s likely I’ll be back in the theater before its run is over. There’s just something about this story of hope and humanity that has me glued to my seat, even though I already know what’s going to happen.

On a side note, I have to commend the people creating the PR materials for The Martian movie. Sure, they released your typical movie previews in advance of the release date, but they also have these incredibly fun and fascinating faux documentaries about the Ares 3 crew and its mission. I’ll leave you with my favorite, done in the style of Cosmos and starring everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And for those of you jonesing for a dose of reality, the insanely cool folks at NASA have compiled an interactive repository for all things about the real Martians. I’ll see you all next month, once I find my way out of this new and exciting rabbit hole of information!

Stargazer

Origins CoverSomewhere along the line I forgot about outer space. Like many kids who grew up in an urban area, experiencing the beauty of the night’s sky meant driving into the city, passing under an oddly-orange firmament where ‘stars’ usually turned out to be planes, to go to the planetarium. There, among the laser effects and synth-heavy space funk, I became enthralled with the idea of traveling to distant planets (our visits probably also laid the groundwork for my high school rave years). Being raised watching Doctor Who sealed the deal. This lasted until I was about 10, when I realized that my fear of heights, going fast, and flying would pretty much ruin any aspirations I had of reaching for the stars. Once the dream became impossible, it seemed acceptable to forget I ever had it.

Thankfully for the rest of the world space exploration carried on, and amazing things were accomplished. We have robots sending us beautiful images (and data) from Mars, while private corporations are currently discussing sending people (and reality shows) to that same red planet. We have interstellar probes, launched before I was even born, that are about to pass out of the solar system.  At this moment, astronauts from three different countries are living and working in the massive International Space Station that is hurtling around the planet miles above our heads.

Moon CoverWhen you take the time to remember outer space, you realize how far we’ve come in understanding it, and how far we’re about to go in continuing that research. There are scores of great books written about space and space exploration, so I felt it would be appropriate to make a reading list for anyone who wanted to be an armchair astronaut with me.

One of the best parts about being in the Pacific Northwest is that you’re never too far from wilderness, and the amazing star-gazing it affords you.The Monthly Sky Guide by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion is an easy to use, very portable book that you can take along on camping trips to help you learn about all the beautiful activity going on above you.

As mentioned in a couple of our Facebook posts, Neil deGrasse Tyson is someone you should know if you don’t already. Tyson is as influential and likable a celebrity for astrophysics as Bill Nye is for science education, or Michael Pollan is for botany. For two very enjoyable and accessible reads about the history of the universe, and where mankind’s place is in it, I’d recommend Origins and Space Chronicles.

Pale Blue Dot coverTo look into the past, present, and future of humans in space, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan is a classic. This book is full of beautiful illustrations and thought-provoking chapters that read like sci-fi.

If you’re like me, and you want a little bit of anthropology mixed in with your space (I know, weird), look no further than Moon: a Brief History by Bernard Brunner. This book takes a look at the mythology and symbolism that has developed around the Moon, and combines it with what we know scientifically about our closest neighbor in space.

Pluto CoverFinally, for mourning fans of debased Pluto, there’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. Written by the astronomer who made the discovery that inadvertently dethroned Pluto as a planet, this book gives the reader a humorous and enlightening explanation of one of the stranger recent events in astronomy.

I hope this list has inspired you, as Jack Horkheimer always urged me as a kid, to “keep looking up!”