A Martian pinch of salt

THE MARTIAN, a novel by Andy Weir has grown into an immense commercial success. The book is not a nuanced study of characters. It does not define a generation. It won’t win the Pulitzer.

I suspect Andy Weir cares very little about any of the above. He wrote a book which is fun to read and feeds the imagination. I hope the money is good, too. The unique process he used is well-known: the chapters first appeared on Andy Weir’s blog, and the writer used the feedback from the scientific community to fix factual inaccuracies and make the science which propels the plot as solid as possible. I have seen the story repeated in the press, on TV and in the blogosphere. I would, one day, like to ask the author whether he considers his approach a stroke of genius or simple luck.

I, however, am more interested in the reasons why hordes of scientists trampled over one another to send snippets of their hard-earned wisdom to a science-fiction writer. It is a larger question than it may initially appear. Scientists do not usually sit by their keyboards waiting to rescue a writer. They are busy. They think big, heavy thoughts. They do science stuff. Some of them have jobs. All of them have paid an equivalent of a couple of mansions for their educations, and now, instead of charging by the hour for consulting, they’re giving shit away for free? Why?

I think back to the time I had to move my chicken coop (yes, chickens). That damned thing was heavier than a piano. Before I knew it, five of my neighbors huffed and puffed carrying the hen castle to its destination. Or the time I had to cut down a split, junky Bradford pear tree in my front yard. (What were you thinking, Mr. Bradford?) Within an hour, four strapping guys held ropes binding the fatter branches and pulling the tree toward the street and away from my house. I fired up the chainsaw and with a manly grunt plunged the blade into the trunk. I regret now no one filmed it: a tree toppling onto my garage while dragging four screaming men behind it. That didn’t go so well, but the point is the guys were there to help; no one asked how much.

The science types treated Andy Weir like a neighbor with a pot of chicken stock in need of seasoning; they were ready with a pinch of salt when he came knocking. And that is what makes me hopeful about humans reaching Mars one day and being worthy of it.

THE MARTIAN is worth reading. Check it out on Andy Weir’s website.

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