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Literature: The Martian

The Martian is a novel written by Andrew Weir, previously the author of 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 land, the Martian weather gets too rough and the mission had to be abandoned, and in the escape Mark Watney was struck down by a piece of debris and presumed dead, and left on the planet. However, he survived, and with no obvious way to communicate with mission control, he had to use the limited resources on hand to survive until the next mission.

An adaptation is planned to come out in 2016 with Ridley Scott directing and Matt Damon starring.


This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • 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 a oxygen maker, although there were a few cases where the problem was to access it.
  • The Aloner: Population of Mars: 1.
  • Apocalyptic Log: About half the novel consists of Mark's mission log entries.
  • 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 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. Also, given that the airlock is a rigid structure it's unlikely for it to strain the Hab's canvas enough to cause fatigue failure.
    • Mark would likely have been clued in that hydrogen was accummulating in the Hab much earlier than he did in the novel. The Hab was 92% hydrogen by the time he noticed it. Hydrogen gas has a much higher speed of sound than normal air, and when the air in a person's lungs had a different speed of sound than air in the surroudings, it causes one's voice to change pitch. As long as Mark was sitting in the Hab full of hydrogen, his voice pitch would have been normal, because the hydrogen was in both his lungs and the surrounding air. But whenever he changed into and out of his spacesuit (which maintians a more air-like composition) there would be a differential. Any vocalization at all (speaking, couging, chearing his throat, grunting) within a minute or two of changing would have produced a noticeably unusual pitch. In fairness, astronauts are used to small changes in pitch of their voices whenever they put on spacesuits, but with Mark's eye for detail he probably would have noticed an unusually large one.
  • Catch Phrase: "One problem at a time."
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The Hermes interplantary shuttle has weak centrifugal gravity.
  • Cutaway Gag: 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:
    How come Aquaman can control whales? They're mammals! Makes no sense.
  • 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 is doing just that, as 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.
    "Duct tape works everywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Flashback: A long sequence dramatizing the dust storm that struck the Ares 3 mission, which the other astronauts incorrectly believed killed Mark.
  • 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 in the Hab (his Mars dwelling).
  • Jack-of-All-Trades: All the astronauts are chosen in part for the ability to master many skills, but Mark was considered especially resourceful.
  • 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.
  • The Mutiny: After a NASA dissident surreptitiously sends the crew of the Hermes a plan to go back to Mars to get Mark—one that the head of NASA had refused to send to them—the crew on their own initiative alters the trajectory of the Hermes in order to return to Mars.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: All of the positions at NASA were filled by fictional people.
  • 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 she will eat them.
  • 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.
    • 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 that Mark is still alive from the satellite imagery.
  • Robinsonade: Mark's desperate struggle to survive after he is marooned on Mars.
  • 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 use conventional rocket propellant are and are less time constrained) but not to the Hermes (which uses ionic propulsion and is much faster).
  • 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.
  • Switching P.O.V.: From Mark's first-person journal entries to third-person chapters centering around various NASA personnel trying to figure out how to get Mark home, with a few third-person omniscient passages describing problems Mark faces on Mars.
  • 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.

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