Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Martian: A Hopeful Space Odyssey

20th Century Fox Image.

I have not yet seen the new “Star Wars” movie, but I expect to. And, like the 1977 original (and unlike the three clunky prequel movies), I expect it will be entertaining—a cowboy tale of good and evil set in a galaxy far, far away.

But it won’t be my favorite sci fi movie. In the endless Star Wars vs Star Trek debate, I’m a Trekkie. There’s something to be said for a fictional tale set in our own universe, not some alternative reality. And the whole “force” mumbo-jumbo pseudo religious stuff is kind of irritating, at least to me, even if I can cheer for the good and boo at the bad

Anyway, visions of the future are often either dystonian or hopeful, and I’ll freely admit I’m more of a fan of “hopeful.” And visions of the future are either far-fetched or seem plausible. I can’t say plausible is always the most entertaining (Star Trek is no more plausible than Star Wars, I’ll concede), still a good dose of “plausible” is pleasurable in my science fiction.

On the day after Christmas, my two sons and I saw the movie “The Martian.” They both have read the book and, naturally, chatted a lot about how it compared with the movie. Me, I would like to read the book now.

We all enjoyed the movie. Once again, millions in treasure and lives are imperiled to rescue Matt Damon. Mars doesn’t seem like the kind of place I would want to spend a year on, eating potatoes grown in my own poop—but it was entertaining to watch.

Anyway, as far as I could tell, no laws of physics had to be rewritten for the sake of the story. It presumes many technical problems had been solved in the future—but that doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It also presumes that a hot redhead mission commander would be huge disco fan—which is kind of tragic, but again doesn’t require the laws of the universe to be realigned.

ABBA on vinyl? No wonder she was ready for another year in space …

NASA-JPL image of Mars surface from Mars Rover.

But, I digress. 'The Martian," besides being a type of science fiction that I enjoy, had me wondering about the role of plausibility in fictional media. Clearly, “To Kill a Mockingbird” didn’t happen, but could have. But, why do I like it, but also enjoy Jasper Fforde books?
"Lord of the Rings" takes place in a clearly “other” place that is nothing like our world, and it works on that basis. Why does “Harry Potter” work?

Why do most fanciful tales of talking animals not appeal to me, but "Watership Down" did? Or, for that matter, what is with the appeal of "Charlotte’s Web"?

There’s no requirement that fiction be plausible to be pleasurable, I suppose—but it works better when there is some consistency within its own universe. Anyway, with science fiction, in particular, I do enjoy it if the “science” seems possible. "The Martian" is a man vs. nature fantasy in which part of the appeal is that it is a not-so-far-off future that could be.

Except for that ABBA part.

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