Literature: The Martian

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 got 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 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.

An adaptation is planned to come out in November 2015, to be directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.


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.
  • 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.
      "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. 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.
    • 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 on Mars is only half Earth's, they operate at 10% efficiency, and the lights aren't 100% either. It doesn't seem enough for over 100 m2 of plants.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    Mark: How come Aquaman can control whales? They're mammals! Makes no sense.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mark Watney. The entire book is basically the sarcastic commentary of a marooned astronaut.
  • 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 were 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 1970's 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 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 specifically warned all the male members of the crew that they would be taken off the mission if they hit on her.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Million-Mile-High Club: Beck and Johanssen in the extended mission, with the knowledge of all of their crewmates.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: A solid 5, which is very impressive for an author with no background in astrophysics.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: All of the positions at NASA were filled by fictional people.
  • 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 she will eat them.
  • 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.
  • 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 www.watch-mark-watney-die.com.
  • 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 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."
  • 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.
    • When asked for a publicity picture, he poses with a thumbs-up, and a caption saying ''"Ayyyyyy!"'
  • 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.
    Fucked."
    • Annie Montrose has quite the potty mouth, despite — or maybe because of — being in charge of public relations.
    "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!"
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • That's What She Said: Mark calls it, when talking to the JPL in chapter 17.
  • 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.
  • 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.