“Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward. Eventually it flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end. It flung them like stones.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
I have been promoting The Martian by Andy Weir for months now. I made my boyfriend read it, I told my fellow bookseller about it, and have hand sold it to a number of people as well. Last week a middle school-ish boy spotted it on the shelf and his mother told him, “Maybe something in the children’s book section?”
“No, no. It’s great. It’s great,” I told her (because I have the habit to repeat myself to customers, a habit I need to break, as after the third time they tend to glaze over) and she bought it!
So, perhaps it’s unnecessary to promote this little novel yet again. However, I saw Interstellar the other day and it made me reel with recognition. The movie is like if The Sirens of Titan and The Martian had a baby who grew up to attend visual art beauty school.
I can’t talk movies so I’m going to try not to. All I can do is gush over how stunning and giant and beautiful this film is. Go see it. Seriously. And if the popcorn is too expensive, do what we did and spend 75 cents on candy from the machines. I sat in the theatre and thought about The Martian and about how similar the two are. The Martian is science fiction, it just is. But don’t let that scare you away. The plot is simple enough – a man is left on Mars. His team and the rest of the world assume him dead. But, he’s not.
For a long time we’re unaware most of characters really exist, because we’re solely getting journal entries from our hero, Mark Watney. And he’s meticulous, and he’s funny, and hopeful and good. It’s important that he’s so likable because his is the only voice for the first half of the book. His monologue concerns mostly troubleshooting issues he comes across. Every issue is life threatening, because he is surviving on Mars, and though there is only one character, it is riveting.
Just as this super closeness is getting to be too much, Weir zooms out. We see the characters on Earth, and we meet the rest of Watney’s team, and a certain worldly humanity that wasn’t in the first half of the novel blooms.
Weir doesn’t deal with time travel in The Martian. I don’t believe he even discusses different dimensions, so the similarities with Interstellar are limited. But if we move on to Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan (briefly) my logic fills out. Here we have all those goodies! A man who is unstuck in time, who only appears once a year with his dog and wise antiquated quips about the reality of life. We have the physical sirens of Titan, a statue of three women in a pool on Titan, a moon of Saturn (reminds me of the location of a certain wormhole in Interstellar). This is a book that introduced me to a school of thought that changed me so thoroughly I can’t remember who I was beforehand.
In truth, it wasn’t the space travel or the time travel in The Sirens of Titan that changed me profoundly. It was this big idea that I didn’t know much about reality, and the writing spoke to a mess of unknowable truths. Vonnegut made me feel deeply lost and troubled and it felt real. I read that book and I understood that I didn’t understand much.
A quote to play me out:
"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." (Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan)