I recently finished reading Andy Weir‘s The Martian for a second time. Well, to be more precise, I finished it reading it aloud to my lovely Anne, who’d been listening to me rave about how good it is for weeks and finally asked me to read it to her as a bedtime story. (She just had PRK eye surgery, you see, and couldn’t read very well herself for the first little while, and… oh, hell, it’s a thing we do sometimes, okay? I read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars to her last year… maybe one of these days, I’ll even do one that has nothing to do with Mars!)
Anyhow, the book is still effective even knowing what’s going to happen, and my thoughts on it remain mostly unchanged from my first experience with it. It’s a fantastic survival story and a real page-turner, populated by characters you genuinely like and care about, and I’m certain the movie version is going to kick all kinds of ass, too. But I realized on this go-round that there’s a broad steak of humanism flowing beneath all the surface-level technology and science and adventure, and I think that’s probably a big factor in why I like this novel so much. This is a book that likes people. There’s one passage in particular, from the very end (literally, it’s on the last page), that I found deeply moving and continue to think about even now, weeks after I last closed the cover. It’s especially been on my mind the past few days.
Last week wasn’t one of my better ones. I’ve entered another of those periodic cycles at work when it feels like I’m being ground into a very fine powder between two large, slow-moving stone wheels. One of those cycles when the workflow never slackens and my day ends up being nothing but proofreading and commuting. And then Friday morning, I found myself having one of those debates over minutiae that nobody seems to care about but me, debates that always end with me using words like “asinine” and making the Sideshow Bob mumblety-growl. (In other words, these are debates I lose, due to having very little actual authority in the scheme of things.) And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Internet last week was thoroughly depressing as well. I came home Friday night feeling about as hollowed out and used up and fed up as I think anybody could. Between getting mowed down at work and the media’s obsession with that obnoxious blowhard Donald fracking Trump and his deliberately inflammatory bullshit statements, I was about ready to walk off into the woods and just forget the whole damn thing we laughingly call civilization because we’ve obviously hit peak asshole and there’s no where to go from here except into the recycle bin.
But then I remembered that passage from The Martian… and I’ll be darned if it didn’t actually lift my spirits. Because I believe those words, or at least I want to. And maybe that’s enough to hold a civilization — or even an individual — together… that desire to believe in something good.
I can’t imagine anyone not knowing how this book ends, how it has to end, but just in case anyone is concerned about spoilers, I’m going to post the passage I’m discussing below the fold:
The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?
Well, okay. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanterary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.
If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.
Pretty cool, eh?
Pretty cool indeed. Hey, some people turn to scripture for reassurance. I have fiction. You find your comfort where you will, I guess.