The Martian, Kindred, and neurodivergence

I saw The Martian last night, with Faith. We're probably going to write up our thoughts on it for Solarpunk Press, but there was one thing that stuck out to me that I want to talk about here. It's the same thing that's been sticking out to me in class discussions about Kindred in Weird Fictions: people without chronic mental health issues are weird.

Here on is going to contain spoilers for both the movie The Martian and the book Kindred.

In a class discussion last week, the professor had us consider the scene where, after being stranded in the 1880s for five years, Kevin (the protagonist's partner) was so frustrated by seeing his typewriter that he smashed it with his fist.

We talked about how massively upset he must be, to cause a reaction that strong. It was a weird conversation to be having, because Kevin's reaction sounded to me like a remarkably restrained management of a mildly bad emotional experience. Being frustrated by everything around you within the first few hours after a five-year-long trauma sounds to me like a tiny, trivial reaction. Kevin was going through an experience I have like twice a year, on a good year. His reaction to literally being stranded out of time was about on par with my reaction, last weekend, to having a stressful class period.

In The Martian, the main character, Mark Watney, copes with having to survive for an anticipated four years alone on an entire planet, using the resources meant to last for a few more weeks, without any reason to hope that he'd get so much as a conversation with another human, for months at minimum.

Being able to survive that seems absurd to me. Not because of the technical challenges, but because Mark Watney seems to have a superhuman capacity for retaining a sense of hope: to the point where he can leverage that hope against the feelings of loneliness and doom that I would have found unbearable within a week.

It occurred to me that a person selected for a Mars mission would necessarily be someone who passed psych evaluations designed to filter for exactly that quality, so it doesn't feel like bullshit in terms of plot. 

In both of these cases, though, I found myself realizing, well into the story, that the characters in the story are neurotypical, and have no chronic mental illnesses, and that means they have access to a set of abilities entirely outside my life experience. I found myself wondering why the creators had chosen to make the protagonists neurotypical, before it occurred to me that they would never have made that choice: if the story isn't about the mental state of the character, they'd never make that a part of it.

I feel like the next beat in this blog post is a sort of call-to-action about the representation of mental illness in media, which is important, but these thoughts are unsorted so I don't have anything clear to say on that front. It's just weird.