Literature: The Martian

"I suppose I'll think of something. Or die."

The Martian is a novel written by Andrew Weir, previously the author of the short story "The Egg", the completed webcomic Casey and Andy and the uncompleted webcomic Cheshire Crossing. The Martian was originally published on Weir's website, then as an eBook through Amazon Kindle, then finally printed by Crown Publishing.

Mark Watney is an astronaut who is part of the crew of the third manned mission to Mars. Soon after they landed, the Martian weather gets too rough and the mission has to be abandoned. In the escape Watney is struck down by a piece of debris and presumed dead, and left on the planet. However, he survives, and with no obvious way to communicate with mission control, he has to use the limited resources on hand to survive until the next mission — which is years away.

On Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness, the novel falls solidly in the "very damn hard" category. No less an expert than Neil Degrasse Tyson, who is no stranger to calling out films which don't fit the bill, praised its "crucial science".

For the film adaptation, click here.

The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absent Aliens: of the "Not every sci-fi plot requires aliens" variety. Mark is Genre Savvy that he's stuck on Mars and stories about Mars have featured martians, so he mentions martians now and then, but it's only for the Rule of Funny. Mark doesn't believe in, or run into, any Martians excepting the one in the title — him.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: The Hermes Mutiny is discussed as a good name for a movie and Live Another Sol is mentioned as a awesome name for a Bond movie.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Averted. Oxygen was actually one of the few things Mark had an adequate supply of throughout his ordeal, since there was an oxygen maker, although there were a few cases where the problem was to access it. And of course, at the start of the novel, he almost dies from too much of it.
  • The Aloner: Population of Mars: 1.
  • And Mission Control Rejoiced:
    • Everyone cheers as Pathfinder's signal arrives, letting them know Mark successfully revived it. In this case, "Mission Control" is a conference room crowded with people and computers, because the old Pathfinder mission center has long since been repurposed.
    • Again at the end, when Lewis reports, "Houston, this is Hermes Actual. Six crew safely aboard."
  • Artistic License: In any book that pays this much attention to detail, there are inevitably going to be a few details that are questionable.
    • The initial windstorm that prompted the mission scrub that left Mark stranded. An atmospheric pressure 2% that of Earth's at sea level means even a 175 km/h wind would have little effect on the MAV, the com antenna, or the Hab. This is even brought up later in the book when the second dust storm hits. The author admits this, but "most people don't know how Martian dust storms work. And it's just more dramatic that way."
    • The failure of the Hab's airlock. It's highly unlikely that NASA would allow a structure subject to pressure cycles like an airlock to be designed with a single-point failure that could lead to loss of crew.
    • The oxygen alarm in his EVA suit — warning of too high oxygen levels — is what wakes up Mark after his impalement by the Hab's antenna. A long technical explanation is given, starting with the suit backfilling with nitrogen after its breach and ending up filling up with pure oxygen after depleting its CO2 filters. Unfortunately, none of it makes any sense. Oxygen toxicity depends on the partial pressure of oxygen in the air, not the oxygen fraction — that is, you can breathe pure oxygen just fine as long as you do it at a lower pressure.note  So there's no reason for the suit to attempt to fill up to normal atmospheric pressure or even to lug around a big tank of inert nitrogen to begin with.
      • Pure oxygen atmosphere, even at reduced pressure, is an extreme fire hazard. Is it a reason enough?
    • Mark's work with the potatoes in general stretches his alleged botany degree quite a bit.
      • Where did Mark get the light for his potatoes? He has 200 m2 of solar panels, but the amount of solar energy received per square metre is only half what it would be on Earth, they operate at 10% efficiency, and the lights aren't 100% either. It doesn't seem enough for over 100 m2 of plants.
      • Martian soil contains fairly high amounts of perchlorate salt, which would make farming considerably more difficult if not impossible.
      • Mark's math with doubling potatoes is highly optimistic and in real life would likely overstress the plants too much and simply kill them.
  • As Lethal as It Needs to Be: The storms on mars. The one at the beginning of the book is more powerful than any on Mars could be — because without it we wouldn't have a plot. The second one in the book is realistic and poses a different sort of danger.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: While he is about to pass out from the massive G forces of being launched into space from Mars's surface, Mark becomes fixated on a particular bolt being pentagonal instead of hexagonal, and wondering why NASA decided that bolt needed to be that way.
  • Badass Bookworm: One character note  receives the traditional NASA accolade:
    Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man.
  • Big "YES!": Everyone at Mission Control cheers and applauds when Lewis confirms Mark has been rescued.
    Lewis: Houston, this is Hermes actual. Six crew safely aboard.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Vogel knows something's up with a message, apparently from from his schoolteacher wife, titled "unsere kinder" (our children) — "Kinder" is uncapitalized (a basic blunder made by non-German speakers, and one he notes she probably would not make), and they usually called their kids "die Affen" (the monkeys).
  • Broken Faceplate: After the seal around one of the Hab airlocks rips and the pressure blasts the airlock out, with Mark inside it, Mark has the faceplate of his helmet shattered. He is trapped in a pressured environment with a slow leak, and needs to MacGyver a way to seal it before he can go anywhere. He ends up cutting the left arm off his suit, tucking that arm against his chest, sealing the hole where the arm was, then using part of the suit's arm as an emergency patch, using the camera on the other arm to see.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Although there are no museums on Mars, Mark retrieves Pathfinder, aka the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, in order to communicate with Earth.
    • Defied when Mark passes near Opportunity on the way to the Ares 4 MAV; he doesn't want to desecrate another historical site just to talk to Earth when he will have a full set of brand-new electronics to work with.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: An example without an antagonist. By the time he re-establishes contact with Earth, Mark's inured to having to deal single-handed with life-threatening problems.
    Mark: To them [i.e. NASA], equipment failure is terrifying. To me, it's Tuesday.
  • Catch Phrase: "One problem at a time."
    • Also "I'm fucked."
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The Hermes interplanetary shuttle has weak centrifugal gravity.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Lewis takes what happened to Watney particularly hard, especially once she learns he is still alive.
    Beck: But, we all left togeth—
    Lewis: You followed orders. I left him behind, In a barren, unreachable, god-forsaken wasteland.
  • Class Clown: Martinez, who loves bad jokes, and Watney who consistently makes bad jokes. Watney's note to Martinez implies they were good friends during the mission.
  • Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun: When trying to get the Pathfinder's rover working.
    Mark: The battery was a lithium thionyl chloride nonrechargeable. I figured that out from some subtle clues: the shape of the connection points, the thickness of the insulation, and the fact that it had "LiSOCl2 NON-RCHRG" written on it.
  • Command Roster:
    • Mr. Fixit: Mark Watney, before being stranded on Mars (technically, the lowest-ranked member of the crew).
    • The Captain: Commander Melissa Lewis.
    • Ace Pilot: Rick Martinez. Handles the initial landing of the Ares 3 mission as well as remote controls a supply probe, and a stripped-down Ares 4 MAV in the finale.
    • The Scientist / The Navigator: Alex Vogel. Coordinates orbital mechanics of the Hermes spacecraft, and has a background in chemistry.
    • The Medic: Chris Beck. Administers medical care and monitors crew lifesigns. EVA specialist.
    • Wrench Wench: Beth Johannsen, who is a proficient programmer and manages the Hermes' reactor. During the finale, she assumes the role of The Navigator in Vogel's place.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Mark swears all the time.
  • Conflict: Man vs. Nature.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Completely and beautifully Averted (Truth in Television) in the case of Mars. Half of the drama of the novel centers around the fact that there aren't many resources that can get to Mark Watney before he runs out of food and supplies. Even Hermes, the spacecraft that just left Mars, can't just make a U-turn — it has to go all the way to Earth and back.
  • Cutaway Gag: End of log entry: "Things are finally going my way. In fact, they're going great! I have a chance to live after all!" Start of next entry: "I am fucked, and I'm gonna die!" Another gem when two of the Mission Control types wonder how traumatized the main character has been by being stranded alone on Mars, and what he's thinking at the moment. It turns out that he's thinking:
    Mark: How come Aquaman can control whales? They're mammals! Makes no sense.
  • Cyanide Pill: The old "astronauts are carrying suicide pills" Urban Legend gets a nod when Johanssen is explaining to her father why she can be so certain she'll make it back home (see No Party Like a Donner Party for the rest of the plan).
  • Deadly Dust Storm: Has two major dust storms. The first one is the reason Mark is stranded on Mars in the first place. The second one wouldn't have been so bad, if he hadn't been in the middle of his cross-Mars trek and dependent on power from solar panels to keep going.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mark Watney. The entire book is basically the sarcastic commentary of a marooned astronaut. Back on Earth, one character notes that this was part of the reason why Watney was selected for the mission in the first place; when things get seriously scary, he can be relied on to make a wise-ass remark instead of breaking down. It's when he stops wisecracking that things can safely be said to have gone way south of south.
  • Determinator: Being stranded on a planet inimical to human life, millions of miles from home, with little chance of rescue would probably send most people right over the Despair Event Horizon. Not so for Mark Watney. Despite multiple life-threatening setbacks he never gives up in his mission to survive anything Mars can throw at him until the rescue he is hoping for arrives.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The accident that leaves Mark stranded on Mars, believed dead. The mission was designed to handle 150 km/h winds, but they get hit with 175 km/h winds. While the crew is evacuating, the wind shears off a communications dish, which then slams into an array of other antennae, one of which then impales Mark — right through the computer in his suit that keeps track of his vital signs. So the Ares 3 crew sees him get hit by something, get carried off into the storm, with a sudden drop of pressure in his suit followed by a lack of vital signs. And the antennae that caused the accident was the base's only means of communication with Earth, so he can't tell anyone he's alive after he wakes up — and no satellite photos are taken of the site for months, because a photo of a dead astronaut would be a PR disaster.
    • The Iris supply probe blows up during launch thanks to several minor design flaws that snowball.
  • Dramatic Irony: Mark writes "It's not like the Pathfinder team is hanging around JPL just in case their long-dead probe is repaired by a wayward astronaut." In fact the Pathfinder team has been regathered to do just that, once NASA has figured out that Mark is headed to the Pathfinder probe (which went dead in 1997).
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Mark occasionally finds uses for duct tape, and often snarks at this lowbrow solution in the mission log.
    Mark: Duct tape works everywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Mark survives. Beck does not have to sacrifice himself, as he was ready to do.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first line of the novel says a lot about Mark's attitude, demeanor, and willingness to accept the facts.
    Mark: I'm pretty much fucked.
  • Eureka Moment: The Mars Mission Director can't figure out why Mark is driving the rover away from the Hab, but not to the Ares 4 landing site — then he realizes Mark's heading for the old Pathfinder lander, to use its radio to communicate with Earth.
  • Everybody Lives: Yep, everyone. Not a single death in this book, excepting potato plants, even with its dire situations.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Not to begin with, but they learn it as a fallback. Even if they lose the Pathfinder's radio, Mark could still send short messages, by arranging rocks on the desert for satellites to see. But there's no way for NASA to tell him about the dust storm.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Mark invents a drink called "nothin' tea". (He even tried steeping potato skins, but it turned out that nothin' is better than potato-skin tea.)
    Mark: Nothin' tea is easy to make. First you heat up some water, then add nothin'.
  • Expospeak: Early in Mark's journal he writes that he "should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this." This Hand Wave establishes the tone for the rest of the journal portions of the novel, as Mark continues to explicate things that any astronaut arriving to read his journal would know.
  • Failsafe Failure: Mark can't talk to Earth because the primary communications system was destroyed in the dust storm, and all three backups are on the MAV. It never occurred to NASA that somebody might be stuck on Mars without a MAV.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: Mark, getting tired of reporting the amount of power his various devices consume in kilowatt-hours per solnote , invents a new unit of measurement: the pirate-ninja. In conventional units, that's an average power of about 40.6 watts.
    • Defictionalization: In an interview with Adam Savage, Andy Weir noted that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Curiosity rover team has taken to referring to watt-hours per sol as milli-pirate-ninjas.
  • Fantasy World Map: The book has a map of Mars pointing out the location of the Ares 3 and 4, Pathfinder and Opportunity.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Mark insists, over and over again, that Commander Lewis was right to leave him behind, because the rest of her crew was in danger and she had to assume he was dead. Leaving him behind with no entertainment beyond her collection of disco music and 1970s TV reruns is another matter....
  • Fight to Survive: One man, marooned on Mars, trying to come up with enough food and water to stay alive until a relief ship can reach him.
  • Finagle's Law: Mark is very aware of it. For his 3200 km (2000 mile) road trip to the Ares 4 site, Mark preemptively earmarks a non-potato meal to celebrate when he "Survived Something That Should Have Killed Me" — because he knows that something will go wrong. Which it does ... twice.
  • Flashback: Most of chapter 12 is a long sequence dramatizing the dust storm that struck the Ares 3 mission, which the other astronauts incorrectly (though justifiably) believed killed Mark.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: About half the novel consists of Mark's mission log entries. He initially takes this outlook with them:
    Mark: I don't even know who'll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
  • Gallows Humor: Plenty from Mark given his situation, but even Martinez gets into the act after the Hermes retrieves a critical resupply probe, sparing Johanssen from eating her crewmates to survive. Martinez cheerfully asks her which of them she would have eaten first. And then claims he'd would have been the tastiest.
    Martinez: ...corn fed!
    Johanssen: Not listening!
    Martinez: Hey! I thought you liked Mexican!
  • Gilligan Cut: Mark makes water out of hydrazine and his oxygen stores, and ends Day 34 of his journal by writing "I have a chance to live after all!" The next journal entry starts with "I am fucked, and I'm gonna die!" Turns out that his hydrazine-to-water process led to a huge concentration of highly combustible hydrogen. "The Habnote  is now a bomb."
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Referenced by Mark. With Mark stating that his greatest wish was for "the green-skinned yet beautiful Queen of Mars to rescue (him)... so she can learn more about this Earth thing called 'lovemaking.'".
  • Hot Scientist: Beth Johanssen, one of Mark's crew mates. The poster with her image on it sold more than all the other crew members' combined. Mark teasingly calls her "a hot chick who went to Mars" in a letter he writes to her. But Lewis had specifically warned all the male members of the crew that they would be taken off the mission if they hit on her.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Inverted. Mark states in his log that he holds no grudge against the rest of the crew for leaving him behind, as it was the only thing they could do in that situation. Lewis, however, hates herself for doing so and keeps thinking she should have gone back for him.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Once Mark repowers the Pathfinder probe and sees that the main antenna has moved, indicating it's now receiving a signal from Earth, he heads back into the Hab and breaks down sobbing.
  • Infinite Supplies: Averted, though the rate of supplies Mark Watney runs through is reduced thanks to painstaking upkeep and MacGyvering.
  • Informed Ability: Melissa Lewis is a geologist, but her geology skills and knowledge are largely discussed versus shown. Justified, as she spends almost the entire book in space.
  • It's a Small World After All: Downplayed. Mark Watney realizes that Pathfinder is within a reasonable distance from his landing site, though it takes a while to get there.
  • Jack-of-All-Trades: All the astronauts are chosen in part for the ability to master many skills, but Mark was considered especially resourceful. The book's climax highlights this quality of the crew in the climax, where various crewmembers end up doing each other's jobs while hastily preparing an improvised plan to recover Mark when his launch from Mars doesn't go according to plan.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: The Hermes crew discusses various maintenance issues the ship is having due to the length of their journey while they are headed back to Mars, an issue with the cooling system has turned Martinez's room into an oven, and Mark's vacant room has the same problem. So Lewis declares that Martinez will sleep in Beck's room, while Beck will sleep with Johannsen.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: A violation to this serves as a spoiler to the loss of the first supply rocket. There would be no other reason to be showing the launch of the rocket down to the Go/No-go callings when it's not even going to arrive at Mars to help Watney for several months time.
  • MacGyvering: Pretty much all of Mark's portions of the novel consist of him puzzling out how to repurpose the gear he has to survive on Mars for much, much longer than was intended.
    • This is a consistent theme on all fronts, with NASA piecing together obsolete computers to communicate with Pathfinder, and the Hermes mission reusing equipment designed to last a much shorter timeframe. Not to mention improvising a bomb to turn an airlock into a braking thruster in the climax.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • 'Mark' originally meant "blessed under Mars".
    • The "Ares" missions are named for the Greek god of war, and Mars is his Roman name.
    • And the Hermes is named for the fastest of the Greek gods, which is appropriate because its hyper-efficient ion engines allow it to accelerate to much higher speeds than current-day chemical rockets would allow.
  • The Men First: While they were evacuating the Ares 3 site, Lewis orders the others to board the MAV and prepare to launch while she searches for Watney. If Martinez is forced to choose between waiting for her, and risking not being able to launch the MAV, she tells him to launch without her. She only returns to the ship (just in time) when the crew convinces her that Watney must be dead, and her dying looking for his body won't change it.
  • Mile-High Club: Called the "Million-Mile-High Club" in-universe, Beck and Johanssen in the extended mission, with the knowledge of all of their crewmates. They had tried to keep it discreet, but as their commander notes, it's a small ship. It's possible that Beck had initiated the relationship after Mark's encouragement in the messages he'd sent to each of the crew members.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: A solid 5, or "speculative science" — everything in the book is possible with current technology (even though some of it is more efficient in the book than the current best designs) — which is very impressive for an author with no background in astrophysics.
  • The Moral Substitute: By the author himself. As of October 2015 Weir is working on a Scholastic Edition of The Martian for purchase by school libraries, which involves substituting all the swear words.
  • The Mutiny: After a NASA dissident surreptitiously transmits to Hermes a plan to go back to Mars to get Mark, that the head of NASA had rejected as too dangerous to the five astronauts on board, the crew on their own initiative alter their trajectory to return to Mars.
  • Neat Freak: When Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, appears in a scene, there's always mention of his immaculate suits, or his adjusting items on a table to align them geometrically with the edges, bordering on Super OCD. This contrasts with the massive amounts of messy improvisation Mark and the rest of NASA engages in to make the eventual rescue work.
  • Nerds Are Virgins: All the NASA leaders — except Annie — understand why "Project Elrond" is an appropriate name for a "secret meeting" at which a "momentous decision" must be made.
    "Elrond," Bruce said. "The Council of Elrond. From Lord of the Rings. It's the meeting where they decide to destroy the One Ring."
    "Jesus," Annie said. "None of you got laid in high school, did you?"
  • Never Live It Down: In-Universe. After watching the media on USB drives the crew left behind on Mars, Mark Watney concludes that Commander Lewis has a '70s problem.
  • No Antagonist: Just Mars, repeatedly.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: All of the positions at NASA were filled by fictional people.
  • No Ending: The book ends with Mark recuperating immediately after his return to the Hermes. We never see their return to Earth, there is no "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
    • There used to be a couple of paragraphs as a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, but it was edited away when the story got a publisher. In it, Mark muses about meeting the Ares 6 engineer to instruct her, then he is approached by a little boy who knows of his story and asks if he would ever go back to Mars. Mark replies with a Precision F-Strike against itnote , to the dismay of the kid's mother.
  • No One Could Survive That: The crew abandons Watney on Mars after getting every indication that he died in the storm and that they would die too if they waited to find his body.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Wikipedia, CNN, and NASA still exist as entities, and Mark's crew bring along old TV shows and music from the '60s and '70s to watch. No mention is made of the names of celebrities or pop culture of the future.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: After finding out that Mark is alive, the crew of the Hermes elects to return to Mars in order to retrieve him.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: A contingency plan for the Hermes after the crew decide to go back for Mark. The Hermes is approaching a rendezvous with a supply probe bringing food for their suddenly lengthened mission. Johanssen, the youngest of the astronauts, reveals to her father that if the rendezvous goes bad and they miss the supply probe, the other four crewmembers have agreed to kill themselves — and become an emergency food supply to get her home.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted in a plot-relevant way: like everything else, Watney puts his waste (and that of his recently-departed crew) to good use, saving it wherever he can. Bonus points for ingenuity: while using his own solid waste for fertilizer and running his liquid waste through the water reclaimer for water is kind of a given, one wouldn't usually expect him to electrolyze his piss to create rocket fuel for the Ares 4 MAV. He even lampshades that given his potato-heavy diet, he's glad that no one is around.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Teddy Sanders. He prevents satellite imagery being taken of the Ares 3 site for months (to avoid bad publicity), keeps the Ares 3 crew from finding out that Mark's alive, and then vetoes Rich Purnell's rescue plan. He regards all these choices as justifiable: there was no reason to presume Mark was still alive, the Ares 3 crew needed to focus on their own survival and the Purnell plan would mean risking five to save one.
  • Oh Crap!: Not as often as you'd think: astronauts are trained to be cool and immediately focus on problem solving in dire circumstances. However Mark does get a few in:
    • The very first log entry after he was abandoned is a continuous Oh Crap!, but by the second log entry Mark is already forming plans to survive.
    • Mark's reaction after he realizes his attempts to generate water have dumped raw hydrogen into the Hab's atmosphere.
    • After the Hab is breached and blows away the airlock.
    • Several hours after Mark accidentally fries Pathfinder and destroys his only means of communication with Earth, when he realized what had happened.
    • Mindy gets one in when she deduces from the satellite imagery that Mark is still alive.
    • A small one for the reader, but after spending a good 50 pages with Mark planning his four years of food (3 years till Ares 4 launch and 1 years travel), reading in the first chapter on earth that Ares 4 won't launch for another 5 years (plus a year of travel) really throws your heart into your mouth.
      • That's Ares 5 they're talking about, next nearest expedition that can utilize supplies supposedly left behind by Ares 3.
  • Oh My Gods!: Dr. Venkat Kapoor is Hindu and likes to cover all his bases.
  • Pair the Spares: Subtle example: The only two members of the Hermes crew who are not married or stranded on Mars end up as a couple.
  • Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Death: Narrowly averted.
    Mark: Well, NASA probably knows [how far the dust storm extends]. And the news stations back on Earth are probably showing it. And there's probably a website like
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Mark gives one at the end of the book, marveling at the effort and sacrifices made to save "one dorky botanist".
    Mark: If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don't care, but they're massively outnumbered by the people who do.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Mark is actually this for the Ares 3 crew. His friendly, jocular demeanor is one reason he was chosen for the mission.
  • The Radio Dies First: The initial storm takes out the entire communications array. The dish is blown so far away Watney can't find it, and he describes the system as simply dead and beyond repair. This is for story purposes, obviously, as with the application of Fridge Logic Watney shows himself to be pretty darn resourceful and has plenty of time.
  • Rage Quit: After half a book of taking whatever Mars throws at him with snark, relative calm, and determination, Mark temporarily has this reaction to his own survival efforts after the Hab breaches. It's hard to blame him.
    Mark: You know what!? Fuck this! Fuck this airlock, fuck that Hab, and fuck this whole planet! Seriously, this is it! I've had it! I've got a few minutes before I run out of air and I'll be damned if I spend them playing Mars's little game. I'm so god damned sick of it I could puke! All I have to do is sit here. The air will leak out and I'll die. I'll be done. No more getting my hopes up, no more self-delusion, and no more problem-solving. I've fucking had it!
  • Reality Ensues: You can't rush the construction of a Mars probe, skip the safety inspections, and expect a successful mission.
  • Reality TV: CNN sets up a regular news show to cover the story — a half hour per day (at least initially), which would seem to vastly overestimate the amount of actual Mark-related news being generated in the typical day. But during one genuinely busy period, "The Watney Report has been the number one show in its time slot for the past two weeks."
  • Red Herring: Several ambitious plans are presented and later discarded due to their not being needed or due to an unforeseen change in circumstances. Being Crazy-Prepared is pretty much required for the astronauts due to the danger of their job.
    • It's mentioned early on that the Hab has enough morphine for a lethal dose, and Mark states that he'd rather commit suicide with it than starve to death. Mark never considers suicide again, and he's never even in enough pain to require a normal dose of morphine.
  • Reentry Scare: Martinez, with the Ares 3 landing craft. Although this frightens the crew, Mark Watney later realizes it leaves him with an ample supply of hydrazine (rocket fuel).
  • Relationship Upgrade: Beck and Johannsen.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Mark's survival goes undiscovered for two months because NASA leaders choose not to look at the Ares 3 base. They don't want to have to publish pictures of a dead astronaut.
  • Robinsonade: Mark's desperate struggle to survive after he is marooned on Mars.
  • Running Gag: All Mark has for entertainment is whatever the team had on their abandoned computers, notably Commander Lewis's collection of '70s music and TV.
    Kapoor: The data transfer rate just isn't good enough for the size of music files, even in compressed formats. So your request for "Anything, oh God, ANYTHING but Disco" is denied. Enjoy your boogie fever.
    • Also, Mark complaining at the end of one day's entry that his back is going to hurt the next day, and then the following day's entry beginning with how much his back hurts.
  • Scotty Time: NASA's plan to get a resupply probe to Mars before Mark's food is exhausted and he begins to starve. They're forced to take risks to meet their deadline because in this instance, "deadline" is not a metaphor; either they launch the probe on time, or there's no point in launching it at all. Reality Ensues when they have to take one chance too many, and the probe launch ends in disaster.
  • Shipper on Deck: Watney, for Beck and Johannsen.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: And how. Very realistic and detailed, accurately portraying current concepts for Mars missions, and getting little details right, like understanding that Hohmann transfer windows apply to the supply missions (which are less time constrained, and therefore use conventional rockets) but not to the Hermes (which uses ionic propulsion and is much faster).
  • Sir Swearsalot:
    • Mark. To get an idea how much, the book opens with:
    "I'm pretty much fucked.
    That's my considered opinion.
    • Annie Montrose has quite the potty mouth, despite — or maybe because of — being in charge of public relations. In her first scene, her only dialogue is saying "fuck" multiple times.
    "Do you have any idea the magnitude of shit storm this is gonna be?" she retorted. "You don't have to face those damn reporters every day. I do!"
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: See Patrick Stewart Speech, above.
  • Small Secluded World: The Hab, the pressurized canvas tent that served as the mission's living quarters, the two rovers, and the return vehicle's launch platform, are the only places available for Mark to live in and plunder for resources.
    • It gets worse when his living space is reduced down to just the interior of the van-sized rover. To prevent himself from going stir-crazy during his extended drive to the Ares 4 site, he builds a "bedroom" out of one of the emergency pop-tents and Hab canvas.
  • Space Friction: Averted. Newtonian Physics being in full play here, the Hermes spacecraft has engines which are powerful but provide little acceleration. This prevents it from slowing down at a whim, or turning around gracefully to rescue an astronaut stranded on Mars. It has to use a gravitational assist around Earth to turn around, and then willingly cause explosive decompression of the atmosphere of most of the ship out of the front of the ship to give the necessary counter-thrust to slow down just enough so that the crew has a hope of grabbing Mark Watney when he passes by in the MAV.
  • Space Pirates: With lots of time on his hands, Mark discovers that when he boards the Ares 4 craft, under (a strained reading of) international law he'll be "a space pirate!"note 
  • Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: When Hermes travels back to Earth to rescue Mark Watney from Mars against NASA's wishes, it has to pull one of these off to get the velocity needed to head back to Mars, then another one to move from Mars back to Earth.
  • Sticky Situation: Mark, when repairing his helmet's faceplate, applies resin designed for suit repairs that solidifies in 60 seconds with his fingers, and holds the patch he uses to make the repair on with said fingers as it dries. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Survivor Guilt: The rest of Mark's crewmates have it, especially Commander Lewis. Even after they learn he's not dead ... yet.
    "You followed orders," Lewis interrupted. "I left him behind. In a barren, unreachable, godforsaken wasteland."
  • Switching P.O.V.: From Mark's first-person journal entries, to third-person chapters depicting other characters trying to figure out how to rescue him, to omniscient-narrator passages describing problems Mark faces on Mars.
  • Team Mom: Commander Lewis is this for the Hermes crew, in particular her standing order for the male crewmembers not to hit on Beth Johannsen or risk being kicked off the mission.
  • That's What She Said: Mark calls it, when talking to the JPL in chapter 17.
  • This Is Reality: After just having been rescued by the Hermes, Mark muses on how the scene would play out in a movie.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: Although in real life a Mars mission is probably 20 years away (as of 2014), the novel seems set at most in five years or so in the future. A fan calculated from orbital mechanics (and Andy Weir confirmed) that the book begins on November 12, 2035.
    • Mark talks about the Opportunity rover as if it is not operating, though at the time the book was first published in 2011 Opportunity was still rolling (and continues to do so as of 2015), so it is unknown if Opportunity really would be where Mark says it is.
    • Given that in its entire time on Mars, Opportunity has only driven some 43 km (and not all in a straight line) whenever it does die, it will still be relatively close to where it is now.
  • Uncoffee: Having run out of real coffee, Mark invents "Martian Coffee" — boiled water with a caffeine pill dissolved in it.
  • The Watson: Annie Montrose, head of PR for NASA. Since Annie isn't a scientist but rather a PR rep, the tech folks at NASA have to explain things to Annie so she can explain them to the reporters at press conferences. This also explains things to readers of the book.
  • White and Gray Morality: The closest thing the book has to a villain is an Obstructive Bureaucrat who thinks he's doing the right thing, he just doesn't see things the same way the astronauts do. He is able to clearly explain the reasoning behind his decisions, he just happens to be far more risk-adverse than the others.
  • You Are in Command Now: Played for gallows humor in the first chapter.
    Mark: Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be "in command" of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
    What do you know? I'm in command.