The book or the movie? The Martian by Andy Weir or The Martian with Matt Damon?

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir by Andy Weir has a fabulous back story. Initially published chapter by chapter and made available for free on the author’s website, readers soon fell in love with the story. First, they asked him to make it available as an ebook, so they could enjoy it on their e-readers rather than having to read it from his website. Fans then asked Weir to make his novel available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon, and the rest is (as they say) history. The novel took off, and Weir sold the rights in 2013 for more than $100,000US.

The Martian is a science fiction novel inspired by the TV hero MacGyver and the fix-it scene in Apollo 13, and has now been adapted for the big screen in a film starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott. The movie is in cinemas now and having adored the book, I went to see the movie last week, hardly able to contain my excitement.

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney in the film The Martian, who is injured and left behind on planet Mars after a dust storm. He must overcome many obstacles in order to survive the harsh conditions and come up with a plan to ensure he doesn’t starve before help or supplies arrive.

The novel by Andy Weir is funny and clever, with complex science somehow made accessible to the average ‘layman’ reader, even for first time readers of science fiction. Sections of the novel are log entries recorded by Watney and are laugh out loud funny. Watney’s ingenuity and character really shine through in the book and Matt Damon did a magnificent job playing the character in the movie.TheMartian film poster

There were some marked differences in the movie adaptation that are worth noting though.
– The book contains quite a bit of scene-appropriate swearing, and without it in the movie, Watney’s character loses a little of his edge.
– One of my favourite scenes (where Watney spells out letters on the surface of mars with rocks) wasn’t included in the film and I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
– The names and nationality of several supporting characters were changed for the movie, and I have no idea why.
– The trip in the rover forms so much of the book (it’s over 3,000 miles) but in the movie, he seems to ‘arrive’ at his location without the audience being aware of the true perils of the journey.
– They changed the ending. I won’t elaborate so I don’t spoil it for anyone, but some of the changes in the movie improved on the original ending and some were a waste of time.

The Martian was one of my favourite books of 2015, and I knew it’d be hard to match on screen, but sadly the movie left me wanting more. At 141 minutes duration, the film is longer than the average block buster, but the time really flies. It was entertaining, and on its own, a very fine movie, I just thought the book was better. Such a cliche right?

So, what’s your opinion, which is better? The Martian movie or The Martian book? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Power Of Printed Books

Green ZoneIt’s easy to get caught up in the hype that ebooks are sounding the death knell of printed books, but if there’s one thing that South America has reminded me, it’s that printed books are far from dead—they’re alive and well in the hands of travellers.

Everywhere I look, backpackers and flashpackers are clutching or leafing through their well-thumbed Lonely Planet guidebooks. They’re reading novels in hammocks (or covering their face with them as an effective sun block while they’re snoozing). They’re perusing the hostel book swaps. Or they are, like me, lamenting the lack of supply of English language books, and making puppy dog eyes at anyone willing to loan or swap them one.

The reason? Ebooks are fantastic and I will happily subscribe to them, but when you’re travelling, you don’t always have access to the ebook make-or-break thing: power. That or the power you have access to isn’t always reliable*. Nothing—not a pretty iPad, not a less-pretty but equally functional Kindle—can replace the handiness, the ease, and the comfort of a printed book.

I have single-handedly blacked out my hostel in Rio three times in the last 24 hours. By turning on the light. They keep asking me if I have other things, such as power-sucking hair dryers, plugged in at the time I switch on said light, i.e. something that would short the circuit or whatever the technical language is. I would argue that it’s clear given the frizziness of my hair that there are neither hair dryers nor hair straighteners being used by me. It’s obviously—and slightly frighteningly—the hostel’s dodgy wiring. I’d have no chance of charging an iPad.

It’s also occurred to me in recent days that although travelling is exciting, printed books also offer an escape from travel. Or help you travel in another way. They help you escape from an interminably long flight. Escape from the snoring of the person slumped in the seat next to you. Escape from the jet lag-induced insomnia. But they also help you journey into a place, to better understand it as you travel through. At the very least these books remind you of a time and place where you enjoyed them.

I made a lucky find a couple of days ago, both because I found an English book I’m enjoying and because it’s one I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered given the expansive choice of books in Australia. The book is Green Zone (originally published as Imperial Life in the Emerald City). I knew of it because it was a recent film by the director of the Bourne Identity series and starring Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon, and I have to say that although the Bourne films are good, I figured Green Zone would be a little macho and over the top for my reading tastes.

But desperation makes for desperate reading measures, and it turns out Green Zone isn’t macho or OTT at all. It’s a brilliant, insightful, and ultimately frightening account of America’s attempt to rebuild Iraq from within a heavily protected area they cordoned off in Baghdad and to which they effectively transplanted a mini America. The result is that the Americans making the biggest decisions in Iraq have little to no understanding of the Iraq beyond the ‘Green Zone’ walls.

Imperial Life in the Emerald CityGreen Zone/Imperial Life in the Emerald City is of the ilk of The Good Soldiers and Generation Kill, but focuses on the policy makers rather than the grunt men. It’s exceptionally crafted and complements the content of the other two books, albeit thoroughly cementing my horror at the Americans’ bungled efforts (and lack of common sense, strategy, and empathy) in Iraq.

My problem with Green Zone? It’s that it’s so easy to read that I’m already three quarters or the way through. I’m sweating bullets over how to beg, borrow, or steal another book to read on the five-hour flight back to Santiago, and the subsequent 15-hour flight back to Brisbane via Auckland. I read the in-flight magazines and watched the films on the way over. On the way back, without a printed book I’m doomed.

*It should also be noted that while five-in-one adaptors seem like a good idea at the time (that is, you no longer need to cart around a bag of various ones that you can no longer remember have which plugs for what), such adaptors are far too fancy and far too technical when you’re jetlagged and. just. need. to. charge. your. phone.