The Martian: better book or movie?


The Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club, of which I am a regular member, had a double-header today: we discussed the book The Martian, had lunch, and then watched the movie The Martian.

Warning, possible spoilers ahead.

Now, I classify the Martian as science fiction, and science fiction isn’t the sort of reading that a lot of the members read when it is their personal choice, so I wondered how the book would impress them.

The discussion opened by asking  how people felt about the science and math that were a key part of the book, did it make it difficult? The response from many was that they actually liked the science and math, thought there was a lot of good details. As one person noted: “they didn’t forget about the microbes, didn’t forget about the soil.” Another person did opine that she had to suspend her disbelief about some of the science. While yet another expressed amazement that she really enjoyed it.

The general consensus is that the book balanced an appropriate amount of science and engineering to the action, to meet the interests and needs of both of those sections of the audience.

The book had a fair bit of coarse language, which made the reading more difficult for a couple of people, but the rest of us recognized it and learned to read around it.

I asked the question about how people classified this book. Science Fiction generally has a hard science fiction, a futuristic science fiction, more social science fiction, and science fiction that crosses into fantasy. We decided it fit more in the hard science fiction, though one person opined that since it didn’t cast into the future with science we don’t have, but rather science we do, that it was more “general fiction with a sciency base.”

We learned that the author initially started the book as a thought experiment, and was encouraged by friend to write it down, so he published it in installments on his blog/website. He got contract offers for the book and movie the same week.

When asked whether we would read another book if he published a sequel, we asked what was meant by a sequel, and the question got expanded into if he wrote another book. Many of us might be interested, depending on what he wrote about. We discussed missions to Venus for example, or arrival back on earth, etc.

That was a synopsis of the  book discussion. I did opine, at the beginning, that I wondered how they could turn the book into a movie. So much of the book was the log posts of the stranded one man.

So we had lunch, watched the movie and found out.

First of all, the opening scene of the movie was about a third of the way through the book as a flashback. But it made sense to open the movie with it. And they did a lot more expansion of the support staff back on earth in the movie than the book. They left out tons of science things and conversations from the log posts. But they did leave enough science in so it  felt sciency and realistic.

There was a significant change at the end during the rescue. The commander of the mission did something she told everyone NOT to do in the book, and did a “Captain Kirk” type action of putting herself at risk instead of the appropriate crew member. It worked to create a dramatic movie moment, just as adding the “Iron Man Maneuver” into the move as actual fact, instead of something merely discussed, led to heightened cinema.

I enjoyed the movie, and would have enjoyed it without reading the book. I enjoyed it a lot more having read the book, though I did miss a couple of things that they glossed and omitted in the movie near the end: the pathfinder incident and the dust storm incident. But they probably took too much time and too much science to keep the pace of the movie going.

So I’d recommend both, with a modest warning for language, and a little bit of graphic blood in the movie.



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