by Robert Tracinski
"As Mark Watney, the novel's astronaut-botanist hero, solves problem after problem--growing potatoes in Mars soil, transforming his urine into rocket fuel--I came to think of The Martian less as a novel in the traditional sense than as an expertly assembled sequence of causes and effects, actions and reactions, hypotheses and conclusions. And though I sometimes got exhausted by the book's exhaustiveness, I also know that people read and enjoy books for lots of different reasons. If you--like the stick figure in the xkcd cartoon [this one]--are interested in a book whose narrative is propelled by thermodynamics, not character, you probably won't mind if the hero is a stick figure too."
"Space, to Mark Watney and the book's other characters, isn't vast or unknowable or terrifying or awe-inspiring. Space is merely a series of problems to be solved--different from the problems one faces on Earth due to transmission delay and lack of oxygen, but nonetheless solvable with some math and a little elbow grease."
"The Martian doesn't treat space as a metaphor. It's not a vast and forbidding Kubrickian void where puny humans tremble in the face of the incomprehensible. It's not even a crucible where characters must confront their tragic Earthly backstories in order to carry on, the way Sandra Bullock does in Gravity. Space is just a problem, to be solved by groups of smart adults armed with duct tape and plastic sheeting and scale models and binders full of ASCII code and dry-erase boards."
"In the grand cinematic tradition, it elides the process of science, distilling it into a series of 'aha' moments and 'Eurekas!' In reality, of course, science is a long, stepwise process that rarely comes up with clear solutions; when it does, they're almost always riddled with caveats and qualifications."
"Consider a key scene in the movie, when a plan to rescue Watney fails. But hark! Rich Purnell (Donald Glover), a disheveled NASA astrophysicist, swiftly comes up with another plan--one involving a slingshot maneuver and some complex equations. The film doesn't explain how Purnell came to this conclusion. It doesn't explain why anybody should believe him.... The film expects us to accept the plan because of our basic faith and trust in science--just as the crew of the Hermes does. 'I've done the math,' Purnell tells an incredulous NASA director. 'Checks out.'"