As a married father of three young children, there are many days when being stranded alone on Mars sounds like Eden. Throw in the fact that lead Martian Mark Watney is a mechanical engineer, and heck I’ve daydreamed this scenario several dozen times already.
Why do I have such compulsion to escape the people I love the most? I’m an introvert, which is definitely part of the equations, but I think the stronger reason is once you have kids, there’s no more “off” button. While single, and even to a reasonable degree while married, if I ever needed time to just check out, it was there. Shut the doors, turn off the phone, and voila! I’m on Mars. Once the first kid is born, though, that luxury is gone. If not actively on duty, you are at least on-call for the next 20 years.
Watney has the opposite problem. No matter what he does, what he tries, he cannot connect with the people he desperately wants to speak to. He’s forced to learn how an entire new world works, and how he can survive on it; without so much as a word of encouragement, let alone insight or knowledge. I found it telling that he had no wife or kids on earth.
It’s easy to romanticize the scenario. The book does a lovely job of it, as good as my daydreams at least. How would it play out in reality? Discounting the “fix this in five minutes or you die” issues, I imagine it would play out much like the rare weekend alone I get. Excitement the first night, complete laziness the next day, then a small but growing seed of desire. A desire to hug my little girl, tickle my boys, and kiss my wife. A seed that says I miss them. It’s only a weekend, so the seed is still small when they get back, but I can see how it would grow to discomfort, pain, and worse in a different situation.
Mark Watney – come home soon. Your mother would like to give you a hug.