I’m back on topic for the study of humor in stories from various genres. My goal in this series of articles is to prompt you to examine how and why the stories you read are funny. To analyze how the humor works so you can better incorporate levity in your own writing to a degree that suits your needs.
We started out with a high-level look at an author who wrote for the sole purpose of being humorous- Erma Bombeck. It was her job to make mundane observations of her commonplace life and turn them into something hilarious. Her humor appeals because there are relatable truths within the hilarity, even if you were not a housewife during the Seventies.
Our next author was Christiana Ellis. Her stories are also written solely to be funny, but instead of anecdotes based on real life Christiana chooses fantasy settings and characters. The tales she writes are madcap and playfully raucous.
Then we moved on to a writer who uses humor, but it is not his end goal. Jim Butcher writes fantasy fiction that balances levity and action in a way that can make you laugh out loud, but it is really just a distraction for a sucker punch that will have you flipping pages and praying that there’s still a pulse.
The novel up for discussion today is similar in its use of humor. The Martian by Andy Weir is about an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars.
At its core, the story is some seriously hard science related in a fictional setting. The character of Mark Watney is a botanist and mechanical engineer. And of course, he’s an astronaut whose space mission went about as wrong as it could go while leaving him alive.
The Martian is the ultimate survival story. Though, instead of foraging for nuts and grubs on a deserted island — he’s on Mars. He can’t breathe the air, there is no flora or fauna, and no ships to signal with a really large bonfire.
There is also no rum.
He has to figure out how to survive with the stuff NASA sent to Mars for various missions. The writer, Andy Weir, is a scientist. All of the math, physics, chemistry, and botany factored into the story is real. All of the space program data is real.
Aside from an initial thought of, “Wow, how’s this guy gonna survive?” you might be thinking it would be a dull read. But it’s not.
Can you guess why?
Because it’s funny. It’s not a constant riot of laughter, but the interjection of humor at key points bonds the reader to the character and his plight. It cuts through the hard science and gives Mark Watney a facet of personality that anyone can relate to. And a reason to keep reading.
Mark’s an upbeat guy. He’s stranded on another planet and may end up starving to death, but he takes each problem in bite-size pieces and cusses around them like a good-natured sailor. Indeed, the story opens with the line: “I’m pretty much f**ked.” Watney is a master of the f-bomb.
While working out how to scavenge parts and stretch his resources, he irreverently muses on the entertainment tastes of his former crew, making his own manure, and all of the various ways he will likely die on Mars. About 70% of the book is told from Watney’s point of view via a series of log entries. Unfortunately, if I share too many of the funny quotes from the book with you, it could ruin the suspense, but here’s one of my favorite laughs:
“I’ve fallen into a routine. Every morning I wake up at dawn. First thing I do is check oxygen and CO2 level. Then I have a protein bar, and one cup of water. I brush my teeth using as little water as possible and shave with an electric razor.
The rover has no toilet. We were expected to use our suits’ reclamation systems for that, but they aren’t designed to hold 20 days worth of output. My morning piss goes into a resealable plastic box. When I open it, the rover reeks like a truck stop men’s room. I could take it outside and let boil off, but I worked hard to make that water. The last thing I’m going to do is waste it. I’ll feed it to the water reclaimer in the Hab.
Even more precious is my manure. It’s critical to the potato farm and I’m the only source on Mars. Fortunately, when you spend a lot of time in space, you learn how to s**t in a bag. And if you think things are bad after opening the piss box…imagine the smell after I drop anchor.”
That snuck up on you, didn’t it? Yes, it’s gross, but it goes with the story. Survival ain’t always pretty.
Overall, The Martian is a wonderful story and I plan to look for more books by Andy Weir. I recommend it to you as not just a thought provoking tale with roller-coaster spikes and drops, but also as a great example of how writing with humor can make a difference. Without it, this book might only have appealed to a small niche of science nerds, the levity allowed Mark Watney to shine and cross barriers into a more mainstream audience.
Because nothing beats a funny astronaut.
Talk funny to me.
Reminder time –
Voting ends today. Don’t neglect your right to vote or cheat yourself out of a good read. Our writers did a fine job this month.
There is a sign-up post for the week three topic. Get your name in before the list is locked down, tomorrow.
Saturday night is your last chance to submit a story (or two) for week two. The topic is “Doll’s Eyes” and any form of writing 200 words or less is welcome.
Add a desiccated digit to RicoChey’s exquisite corpse. Read an installment of Kathy’s interview with Gentle-wordsmith Robert Okaji. Check out the info skyllairae shared on getting published. (She knows this stuff, you should see her CV.) And stay tuned for another article tomorrow on Brigit’s Flame.