This one was just way too easy, but it was also perfect. Ace. Stellar. All the superlatives.
Of course Andy Weir’s stand-out novel The Martian should be paired with The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, because they have the same name in their title!
No. No dear friend. It’s that easy, but it’s also not.
You’re hopefully already well-acquainted with Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It’s a set of loosely connected short stories that tip-toe around the edges of madness, uncover the frustrations of a new planet, and master the line between suspense and silence. It’s a small book that’s written in Bradbury’s characteristic dreamscape where ordinary things are enough to give you the shivers, or nightmares.
Weir’s The Martian, on the other hand, deals with these same issues, but in a hyper-realistic way. Where Bradbury uses fantasy, Weir uses top-notch research and scientific theories to slip us onto Mars. In the novel, we watch as astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on the red planet and forced to use his ingenuity to stay alive. Worse, NASA realizes he’s still out there and has to watch, hoping they can help him escape. Somehow.
It’s a fast-paced book that’s balanced by hilarious journal reports from our adventurer. Watney has to motherf-n create water on the planet and uses his supplies to do so, but he’s also forced to watch corny 70s sitcoms because they’re the only ones that have been left behind. He throws tantrums. He gets lazy. He has strokes of genius. He outruns storms.
It’s a book that I had to inhale in one sitting and then recommend to everybody.
But, see, where these books really shine together in a pairing is in how they approach their subject. Both use the quiet of the pages to draw us nearer to Mars. Both hold us there–in that silence–just before we slip over the edge of suspense into the stories themselves. Both help us wrestle with the ideas of who we are as humans and what we become when we leave earth. Perhaps neither of them give us answers at the end of our reading, but they do teach us how to ask better questions.
As the good man himself put it in The Martian Chronicles, “Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.”
If Cosmos rocks your world or if you stayed up way past your bedtime to see the blood moon a few days ago, dive into The Martian and The Martian Chronicles. You’ll soon be shouting out superlatives too.
Have you read The Martian or Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles?