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Mars… Is there a life on Mars?

Mars… Is there a life on Mars?

            Mars, the Red, fourth planet from the Sun. The small one, between Earth and Jupiter. Named after Roman God of war, which is ironic, considering Elon Musk’s plans. Temporary “home” planet for astronaut Mark Watney, who survived the storm and found himself in out-of-this-world reality. On February 18th, NASA rover Perseverance safely landed on Red Planet’s surface and sent us a picture: “Hello, world. My first look at my forever home”.

We live in a digital era, and Perseverance has a Twitter account – I recommend you to follow it for the updates. And smart, encouraging tweets, like this one.

mars
Source: Twitter
Dare mighty things.

            Lot, this entry will be special for many reasons – “The Martian” book was a one-night read for me. I read it back in 2015, somewhere in between my mental struggles. I felt alone, though I was surrounded by many great people. The Martian film is one of my go-to on a rainy day. I don’t know if it’s because of Matt Damon or the story – probably both – but I just love it.

By the end of this post, you can read my “interview” with Andy Weir, the sci-fi author behind “The Martian” and “Artemis” AND upcoming “Hail Mary”. But before you dive into our conversation, stick around for the story about man on Mars. Stick around and see what it means to me.

(Side note – I just Googled “The Martian book quotes” and this came up – I love the Internet!)

mars
Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

            I first heard about this book from a friend. I knew that there was a film in the making, so as usual back then, I decided to give it a read prior to watching a movie. “The Martian” turned out to be a great recommendation – and hell, I am so glad I read it in polish! Don’t get me wrong, I read it 4 times more, in English but science, man… As an author, you always should explain new things to your audience, assuming they have no idea about it. And that’s how science in “The Martian” is built – it’s Surviving on Mars 101. How does one achieve that kind of level of authenticity? Well, the answer is simple: tons of research and (sadly) math.

Andy Weir did tons of research and hence the scientific accuracy in the book. He explained the science that even a dummy like me could understand it. Which made the book a little less overwhelming. Why only a little? In 2015 I was so lost… The transition period from being a kid to a young adult, anxiety attacks about which I didn’t know that much. Being misunderstood by my family, being quite among friends. And here comes Mark Watney, left alone on Mars, with nothing but his wit and wisdom to survive.

            “The Martian” is technically accurate sci-fi, which is rare. Believe me, writing a sci-fi novel that makes sense even for people who are not interested in space, is hard. Anything less “normal” or believable would ruin the reader’s confidence that this might actually happen. Can you really grow potatoes on Mars? Science and NASA say “technically/kind of yes”. You know, NASA wants to reach Mars, like go there with human mission by 2033 and they have to be ready for everything, including “The Martian” scenario. Obviously though, here on Earth we can only create “Mars-like” conditions, so nothing is certain. It sure as heck is exciting, right?

Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.

            I promised you to explain what this book means to me. Andy Weir is very frank with his struggles and when I reached out to him in 2015, he responded with kindness and concern that… I was lacking in my life. Funny, how strangers can turn our life around, no? I needed help; I just didn’t / couldn’t realize it. Lot, never underestimate the power of anxiety – the power it initially has over you and your life. The key is to control it, learn to live with it. I spoke with few doctors since 2015 and only recently found someone who actually helped me.

And it felt familiar. Mark Watney was stuck on Mars. He was alone and vulnerable, facing two choices: give up and be the first man who died on Mars or… “science the shit out of this”. He chose the latter, because guess what? He could. Because ultimately, it’s not a matter of the “right” thing; it’s a matter of survival.

mars
Source: Pinterest

            If I could compare anxiety to something, it would be living on Mars. Surviving to exist on Mars, to be exact. Not easy, not everyone could understand. The beginnings are extremely hard – confusion, crushing loneliness, sadness. But there are also bits when you feel like there is hope: finding out that you are not alone with this (which is both comforting and… Well, I wish no one had to face anxiety). Having someone guide you through the “general process” – just like NASA helped Watney with few technical things, like fixing the Pathfinder. And finally, having a crew that is ready for everything to help you.

mars
Source: the-martian.fandom.com

“The Martian” proves that for every problem there is a solution, that results in another problem, that requires new a solution, which generates new problems… And if this isn’t how life with anxiety looks like, then I don’t know what is.

I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.

            “The Martian” is so damn funny! It’s yet another reason why I come back to it quite often – snarky comments, jokes and hilarious remarks made by Watney, are truly special. It’s not your typical don’t-worry-be-happy or light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel situation. His sense of humor is real and based on the moment. His reactions are unfiltered, raw and therefore human – and that is what makes him so relatable for the reader.

Source: Pinterest

So relatable for me, a struggler on my Mars. And what better way to deal with whatever life throws at you, than with hit disco music?! Truth being said, fighting anxiety is a team effort. I don’t know anyone strong enough to face it on their own. There is always someone involved – a doctor, a bunch of friends, maybe a loved one. And yes, the lion’s part of the work is on our side. Our willingness, our survival instinct – without them there is no point of fighting.

            It took me 4 years after that conversation with Andy, to find my way. 4 years to start this place, to find a good therapist and start growing my own plants on Mars. Making water, re-evaluating my life, my choices and decisions. It’s a work in progress, I know that. But hey – if Watney did it and if I am doing it… So can you!

Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command.

            So, when I heard there will be a movie with MATT DAMON, I obviously flipped. After all, he is my first movie crush, right? But it was Donald Glover who stole the show in my opinion! One of my go-to stories about The Martian is the scene, where his boss visited him. In one of the interviews, Glover said that he fell during the first take and… They decided to keep it. They being Ridley Scott who directed the film. I am almost tempted to gush over Glover for the rest of this post but! This man deserves a separate entry, so soon.

mars
Source: elle.com

The Martian was a star-studded cast and it did not backfire. It often does with movies like this (block-buster, is that the term?) but holy crap you Lot. Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Sean Bean? How can this mix don’t work out? I have nothing bad to say about their performances, because the chemistry between the Ares crew (Chastain, Peña, Mara, Stan, Damon, Hennie) was so pure and fun to watch!

I loved the music – both soundtrack and songs – perfectly balanced mix of soft, delicate score with banging hits. Oh, in my head I see Matt Damon’s sweaty face, in the rover listening to Hot Stuff.

            I could not go on without this important honorable mention. You remember HAB – the kind of tent thingy, where the astronauts lived and it became a temporary home for Mark? It was a as a spherical tent created by Freedomes, a Polish company based near Szczecin. Adam Łyczakowski , one of the company’s owners said: “We had to supply Ridley Scott’s team with two tents, as the script included the destruction of one of them during filming (…) We’re operating in a niche market with very few competitors worldwide. We not only design and produce spherical structures, but we also assemble them and provide full event service.”

Live Another Sol would be an awesome name for a James Bond movie

            Both the book and the film are extremely important for pop culture, because they present the relationship between a human and survival. All of its complexities, ups and downs. It’s completely absorbing on every level – drinks the Watney’s botanic, astronautic and general knowledge as from a fire hydrant. It also showed and proved, that you can’t solve problems without facts. And that is a fact.

mars
Source: forbes.com

Even though for most of us, cinema and books are purely entertainment, one of the things my anxiety taught me is that if you see some parts of yourself in pop culture, it’s not that scary anymore. Sure, it’s real. But seeing your fears being faced by Matt Damon… Well, that is a pretty damn fine way to deal with them.

            So, is there a life on Mars? Sure. I am living there! It’s just a matter of perspective, is it not? For me, Mars is my anxiety, insecurities, struggles. But I know that I am not alone in my Space Oddity, and I am not the only Starman(woman) out there.

What is your Mars?

Oh man, wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best-selling show
Is there life on Mars?

            One more thing before the promised interview – last night I had the opportunity to see Lazarus – a musical co-written by David Bowie. And you know what? I don’t like the fact, that we have to live in a world without Bowie in it. He truly was out of this world and I just hope that people will never take his art for granted.

mars
We can be heroes. Photo credit: cupcakethief

Music is one thing, but his guest appearances in Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me or The Prestige deserve a shout out every single time.

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”

            Andy Weir agreed to answer my questions and let me tell you I was (still am) over all the moons. I will be forever grateful. Enjoy! 😊

Did you like the movie? Did it fulfill all of your expectations?
I’m very happy with the film! Yeah, they made some changes. They had to pull things out, or the film would be 5 hours long. But overall it’s a very faithful adaptation of the book and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

I know that you are very frank about your fight with depression and anxiety. People like me, look up to you! What was/is the hardest thing about this fight? Will you carry the burden for the rest of your life?
It sucks, for sure. I think the hardest thing is just how much it limits my life. I skip out on a lot of life’s fun because I’m too afraid to deal with it. I’ve never been on a roller-coaster. For most of my life I didn’t travel any further than I could drive because planes terrified me. I never flirted with women because I was too intimidated. Over time I’ve done some of those things (I’m even married now!) but it’s been much harder for me than people realize.

How did the research for „The Martian” looked like?
The research effort ended up being tons and tons of Google searches and a bunch of math. I didn’t know anyone in aerospace at the time I wrote the novel, so I was on my own. But I like researching, it’s fun for me. So it wasn’t a problem.

Why such interest in space? Your second novel (which I loved) is also set in a space, far away.
It’s just something I’ve always loved. I’m not sure why. I guess I’m just a space dork.

Do you have a favorite „space” film?
Well “The Empire Strikes Back” is one of my favorites. But is that really a space film? Or is it a fantasy story with a space veneer on it? There are sword-fights, wizards, prophecies, etc.

If we’re talking hard-core “all about the space” kind of films, I’d say my favorite is “Apollo 13”.

On Feb 18th we witnessed another successful rover landing on Mars. How did that make you feel?
Felt awesome! I watched it, or course and I breathed a sigh of relief when the landing was successful. I’m looking forward to the pictures it takes and especially excited to see how the helicopter works.

What does it mean for us? For the humans on Earth?
Well it’s not going to have a massive effect. Science rarely does. It’s just about adding to the stockpile of humanity’s knowledge.

When we talked back in 2015, you told me of a novel which was supposed to be published in late 2016 with working title „Zhek”. Why didn’t we hear anything about it?
Because it sucked. I worked on it for a year and got 70,000 words written on it. For reference, The Martian is about 100,000 words. And Zhek just wasn’t coming together. The characters weren’t interesting, the plot was meandering, and the word count was sky high. It was on track to becoming a boring giant book no one would like. So I ditched it and wrote Artemis instead. It hurt to throw away a year’s work, but I would rather go through that pain than release a crappy novel.

Is there a scoop of this upcoming novel that you can share? I will have anything, even out of context 🙂
A man with amnesia wakes up on a spaceship and slowly discovers he is humanity’s last hope for survival.

How did your life change since last time we spoke?
A ton. I got a bunch of money, which is nice. I’m a full-time author now, so I get to do that. I got married. Lots of changes. 🙂

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Ringo Starr. I’m a huge Beatles fan and he’s my favorite Beatle.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
If it can be anything – even superpowers: I’d want to be able to teleport anywhere in the world.

If I have to limit it to something that’s real: I’d like my anxiety problems to go away. That’s a fair answer, right?

Who is your favorite sci-fi author?
Isaac Asimov.

What is your favorite sci-fi book?
“I, Robot”

Back to the Mars exploration: do you think that we might come to a moment, when Mars will become a „backup plan” for Earth? Is it good or bad?
I don’t think that will happen. I think Mars will eventually be colonized, but not as a “backup” to Earth. Whatever environmental or other problems Earth may face, it will be considerably easier to fix Earth than it would be to colonize Mars.

In the same way that North America got colonized by Europeans, but Europe is still there.

What would you say could be the hardest in conducting successful human mission to Mars?
Getting the humans there and back. If we had a magical portal to the surface of Mars, a Mars mission would be trivial. The environment on the surface is easy to handle, scientifically. It’s the distance that’s the problem.

What can and should we learn from all failed human missions to space?
Each one failed for a reason. Find out the reason and make sure future missions don’t have that problem.

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends?
Woodworking. I make furniture and also I like to make custom clocks.

If you could give your 13-years-old advice, what would it be?
“It gets better. Your life is going to be awesome. Just stay the course”. I should probably explain that I had a pretty bad childhood and teen years.

Writing sci-fi books and making them „believable” (quotation marks not of irony, I absolutely love that kind of books) is extremely hard. What is your silver lining? How did you achieve that?
Lots and lots of exposition. I have to explain a lot of science to the reader. That can be tricky because I don’t want the book to read like a Wikipedia article. The trick I’ve discovered is humor. If you make exposition funny, the reader will happily read all of it.

„The Martian” is for me a great metaphor of man’s fight with depression – things will go South, things will start to look up only to go down again. When it rains, it pours. However… If Mark Watney made it on Mars… He was alone on Mars. The loneliness must have been crushing for him, but for me it put things in perspective. Where the idea for „The Martian” came?
I was imagining a manned Mars mission, putting it together in my mind. Naturally, you have to account for failure scenarios and have plans for what the crew could do. I realized those failure scenarios made for a pretty interesting story.

I wanted the story to focus on the problems and solutions. I didn’t want it to be a dark and depressing tale of a man’s struggle with crippling loneliness and constant stress. That’s just not the story I wanted to tell. So I decided Mark is made of sterner stuff than most people. After all, he was chosen to be on a manned Mars mission, so he’s not just some guy off the street. He beat tens of thousands of other people for that position.

Do you believe in writer’s block?
I don’t usually have problems coming up with story ideas. My problem comes from motivation. So it’s not a “block” per se. It’s more of a “laziness” problem.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee.

Have you ever watched Twin Peaks? 🙂
Back in the 1980s, yeah I think so. But it’s been so long I don’t remember it.

Introvert, extravert or ambivert? Which word describes you most?
I think I’m an ambivert. I took a test once and scored exactly halfway between introvert and extrovert.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Exhaust. It’s work.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
It’s easy to spend years carefully building up your world or thinking about cool stuff that can happen in the story. But you have to actually write to be a writer.

Is cinema (as if movies) for you just an entertainment or something more?
It’s just entertainment.

2 thoughts on “Mars… Is there a life on Mars?

  1. You never cease to amaze me Julia 🙂
    Interview with „The Martian” author – nice!
    Regarding David Bowie. Since you’re a fan maybe you know but he also composed music for games and even played in one – Omikron: The Nomad Soul (1999).

  2. I am still so absolutely amazed by the fact that you got your mini-interview!! Super proud of you, you rock!! ❤ Also, he seems like a really nice person – very genuine. Loved the questions you asked and his answers.
    And the movie lands on my to-watch list, that’s for sure. Don’t ask me how is it possible that I didn’t see it so far.

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