It's more science than fiction. Andy Weir's story of a lonely man struggling to survive is not what you'd expect blockbuster material to be, yet his self-published novel rose to the top of Amazon's best seller list mere weeks after its release. There's something simply satisfying about a survivor tale, and the idea of being marooned has intrigued writers for centuries. The Martian takes this concept and runs with it, propelling the age old tale to a new era by placing it in an interstellar setting. And with NASA scientists advising the screenplay, could The Martian help put the realism back into sci fi?
We're used to plenty of fake science talk, and in fact its a staple of any fun sci fi story to have the scientist character ramble on with clearly made up terms until someone says "in English, please." But there's no mumbo jumbo for The Martian: all the methods that the characters use are totally real. There's no fantastical technology, no super substances. Everything that happens in the film could happen in real life, which has excited fans and scientists alike. After suspending our disbelief so much for superheroes and space operas, we may have forgotten we didn't believe in the first place. The Martian should bring us crashing back down to Earth (or, to Mars at least).
Weir is also hopeful that the film will spark interest in space travel, looking forward to a time when NASA sends civilians beyond the atmosphere.
"I think it could spur interest in Mars exploration because we haven’t had a lot of movies that have portrayed space travel accurately."
While we have regular updates from the lonesome Mars rover, the red planet is sadly absent from a lot of modern sci fi stories. Gone are the days when we dreamt of terraforming, or futuristic cities in glass bubbles on the red desert. Could this renew our interest in our planetary neighbour?
No more big ideas?
Yet the upcoming film has already faced criticism for being a little too realistic. "The Martian is all about growing potatoes," bemoans one Guardian commenter, "what happened to the big ideas in sci fi?" It's true that our dreams have been rather limited of late. The wild notions of classic sci fi novels seem to be like B-movie material. So the question is, should we challenge our imaginations to expand outside the box? Or will the genre benefit from a more human tale?
I for one welcome a film that uses real science to fuel its plot. Though Weir does admit that he fell short of accuracy with some of his knowledge...
"Chemists actually pointed out some problems in early drafts! But I was able to go back and correct some of the chemistry that’s crucial for Watney’s survival."
Science fiction has always been a genre of disparate themes, addressing everything from societal problems, to alien invasion, to how to grow plants on a barren planet. With its dedication to real science, perhaps The Martian will usher in a new tradition in modern sci fi, challenging writers to look to cutting edge research to garner inspiration for their tales.
And there are some fantastic discoveries to write about! There's the huge water cloud orbiting a black hole, and a cluster of super galaxies so large that scientists have had to rewrite some of our laws of physics. The possibilities are vast and infinite, and with advances in technology that boggle the mind, sci fi is real and it is now! Let's see more films that reflect this, and celebrate just how awesome real science is.