One Book For A Desert Island:
The Martian or Robinson Crusoe?


NewsWhistle takes a look at two stories of the stranded and abandoned and pits them in an ultimate literary face-off.  Who will survive?


THE BOOKS: Andy Weir’s The Martian vs. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe



Robinson Crusoe begins as the story of the prodigal son, who ignores the advice of his father and strikes out into the world to seek his fortune.  After the sinking of the first ship he embarks upon, he departs on a second trip and is taken captive by the Moors off the coast of Africa.  Escaping, he travels to Brazil, and thanks to the good offices of an honorable ship captain, sets himself up as a plantation owner.  A group of affluent planters engage him in the ironic mission of going to Africa, the site of his captivity, to capture slaves to work in Brazil. The tale then morphs into the classic tale of the lost mariner, the only survivor from a shipwreck on a deserted island.  Crusoe finds himself washed ashore alone, and must use his limited skills to survive.  In addition to finding a way to feed and house himself, he must contend with the loneliness and fear inherent in his situation.

Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind by the crew of Ares 3 when they abort their mission to Mars due to extreme weather.  Marooned on the red planet with limited food and no way home, Watney attempts to survive until the next planned mission to Mars, Ares 4.  Blessed with his skills as a botanist and engineer, his mission specialties, he fights to overcome a series of nearly insurmountable challenges.  Throughout, the tale is enlivened with Watney’s graveside humor and fascinating details of what survival on Mars entails.




THE WHY: So why was Robinson Crusoe voted off the island, if you will?

Author Defoe takes longer to begin the heart of the story.  In contrast, The Martian‘s sarcastic and humorous tale begins from the first sentence, with no preamble.

The Martian also provides a richer story because it includes narration from the perspective of other characters besides the protagonist.

In fact, I noted that The Martian improves once the other viewpoints come into play.

Defoe’s book also spends a significant portion of the text moralizing, speaking about Providence and ruminating upon whether Crusoe deserved his exile.  While this may have been interesting to an eighteenth century audience, I found it grew tiresome.

Weir moves his tale along much more rapidly, and with fewer narrative detours.  Weir’s book is interspersed with explanations of physics and the Martian atmosphere, as well as references to other manned space missions, both real and fictitious.

Mars captures the reader’s imagination more so than a deserted island in the Caribbean. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed Watney’s dark sense of humor and found him to be a very sympathetic character I had no trouble rooting for.



The Martian (one to five whistles, with five being the best): Four Whistles

Robinson Crusoe (one to five whistles, with five being the best): Three Whistles


HOW TO BUY: The MartianRobinson Crusoe


Composite Image: Robinson Crusoe, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, the David McKay Company (1920); The Martian, cover art, Random House