Andy Weir’s The Martian is celebration of storytelling. It reminds us why we love telling and hearing stories in the first place. The book does not redefine the genre, and as will be discussed, it is not wildly original. The Martian is self aware of this, which adds to the charm. Overall, the entire experience is a real treat to the reader and rewards those who recognize the intertextuality.
Perhaps you read Robinson Crusoe in school, or watched Castaway to understand any “WILSOOONN!!!” references. Anyone who knows these stories is no stranger to the premise of Andy Weir’s survival tale. Intertextuality is the relationship between texts or forms of literature. This can be confused for plagiarism, but it is in fact a common occurrence in the nature of modern storytelling. These stories, Robinson Crusoe, Castaway, The Martian, show the evolution of the same story for different times (Although is my research I found a 1964 titled Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which perhaps makes me question Weir’s inspirations ).
This development makes each story stronger as it must build and reinvent the previous one. Castaway introduced a cinematic form of the narrative and saw enormous success. The Martian introduces a highly scientific environment and merges the story beautifully with the science fiction genre. This story then also made it to the box office, seeing even more success (On a side note, the story of saving Matt Damon has become a trend of its own; someone actually calculated the amount of money spent on saving him in various movies). So, the point here is that intertextuality is not bad or lazy, but a progressive practice that is ultimately good for culture and storytelling.
The Martian also exemplifies Walter Ong’s concept of secondary orality. It’s built on the idea that speaking to another person in a conversation is the primary or purest form of orality. From here, text or literacy becomes the secondary orality. Watney’s logs in The Martian are this secondary orality. The story starts entirely through this lens, but as Watney makes contact with Earth, it dips back into primary orality. As the reader though, I cherish Watney’s logs more than the third person omniscient chapters. Watney’s personal thoughts are, I think, more interesting and more effective in storytelling. Watney doesn’t know if anyone will ever read these entries, making them more raw and provocative. Secondary orality becomes immortalized, but doesn’t matter if never read.