Specifically: these ponies are all CRAZY!
Soon after Twilight Sparkle publishes a paper explaining that the magical land of Equestria is not a flat plane covered by a bowl of stars, but actually a planet in a heliocentric star system, Chrysalis, queen of the changelings, decides that the next step in her program of conquest is to harness the power of the moon.
Of course, first she needs to get there to claim it.
Changeling Space Program (CSP) and its sequel, The Maretian, are My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfics by Kris Overstreet, telling the story of the Space Race between Queen Chrysalis's Changeling Space Program and Twilight Sparkle's Equestrian Space Agency and subsequent events.
The missions depicted in CSP are based on missions played through Kerbal Space Program; most of the minor in-game mishaps are translated directly to the story.
There are three related works.
- "My Flight": Cherry Berry loves two things: Cherries and flying. Even though she has Twilight Sparkle's balloon on permanent loan and her own personal helicopter, she wants something a bit faster. (Prologue. Complete.)
- Changeling Space Program: The space race is on. Can Queen Chrysalis and her hive of enthusiastic, but not-too-bright changelings beat Twilight Sparkle and her friends to the first moon landing? (Crossover with Kerbal Space Program. Completenote .)
- The Maretian: The race to the moon is over, and the Changeling Space Program and the Equestrian Space Agency are now working on a joint project to reach Bucephalous, the next planet out from their sun. A mishap during testing of Twilight Sparkle's experimental rapid-teleport interplanetary drive system strands three ponies, a changeling, and a dragon in a different universe on a hostile planet with a wrecked spaceship, very little magic, and a rather surprised human named Mark Watney. (Crossover with The Martian. Complete.note )
The fanfics provide examples of:
Tropes common to multiple stories:
- Alternate Continuity: As CSP was begun before the season 6 finale ("To Where and Back Again") aired, the entire "skittle-bug" plotline is treated as one of Chrysalis' bad dreams, as related in Chapter 14 of Changeling Space Program.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Multiple stories:
- Changeling Space Program: From "Mission 20":Conclusions from flight: The passengers said in the survey they weren't afraid of heights or closed spaces. Too bad we didn't ask about heights AND closed spaces.
- The Maretian:
- Changeling Space Program: From "Mission 20":
- Cerebus Syndrome: CSP is primarily a comedic space adventure with plenty of slapstick and ludicrous situations to navigate. The Maretian is a survival adventure where the humor comes mostly through character interactions and Mark Watney's snarky log entries.
- Continuity Cameo: Despite a point of divergence before the end of season 6, characters from later episodes are referenced. (Changelings presumably retain their "unreformed" forms.)
- In Chapter 16 of Changeling Space Program, as a reference to Pharynx, who appeared in the show... He is mentioned as a potential Hive Viceroy. (More competent than the incumbent, but his paranoia is a significant negative.)
- Ocellus and Smolder are mentioned as new astromares in training after Cherry and Dragonfly return to Equestria.
- Danger Deadpan: The pilots in both organizations strive for this.
- Deadly Euphemism: "Have a Bad Day." "Not going to space today" also appears.
- Door Stopper:
- CSP: Over 300,000 words.
- The Maretian: Over 450,000 words.
- Easy Logistics: Sorta. Taking its cue from Kerbal Space Program, the life support transmission crystals can supply effectively unlimited water and air, but due to bugs in the transmission spells, carbon compounds (i.e. food and many fuels) cannot be safely transferred through the system. (Yes, electrolyzing water can yield hydrogen for fuel, but that has its own storage issues.)
- Eat Dirt, Cheap:
- Dragons, including Fireball, eat crystals and gold as part of their diet, which becomes a major problem in the earliest days after Amicitas's crash-landing on a crystal-poor planet in an (apparently) magic-less universe. Once a supply is found, however, Fireball's biggest problem is the bland, monotonous diet of mostly plain quartz.
- During the post-mission investigation of the "Stayputnik" fiasco, Pinkie Pie reminisces fondly of snacking on her mother's patented silicon chips:Pinkie Pie: It's the copper inclusions that really make it!
- Flight: Magical:
- Info Dump: All three stories include information about flight, space flight, or other scientific material. In particular, Goddard the Griffon and the minotaurs of Changeling Space Program, and to a lesser extent Mark Watney in The Maretian, are prone to become Mr. Exposition as required.
- Interplanetary Voyage: Getting to orbit, much less to the moon and beyond are major undertakings.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Cherry Berry is usually a typical pony, just as prone to panic attacks as any other citizen of Ponyville. But put her in a cockpit and she becomes the proverbial Steely-Eyed Missile Mare.
- Matter Replicator: Changelings can synthesize a variety of useful organic polymers from basic foodstuffs.
- Mission Control
- Changeling Space Program Mission Control is based on the NASA model.
- The Equestrian Space Agency had a more informal atmosphere until ESA mission 5 demonstrated why having several ponies simultaneously trying to supply information/advice is not conducive to crisis management. Subsequent missions adopted CSP procedures.
- In The Maretian, Houston's Mission Control Center is featured during the Sleipnir (resupply probes) and Phoenix launches.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Even allowing for magical ponies, things generally sit around 3 ("Physics Plus") or harder.
- Noodle Incident: Just what did Kevinnote do to earn Chrysalis' eternal wrath?
- Retro Rocket: Twilight Sparkle's favorite test-bed vehicle and prototype for her vision of the future of space travel, Amicitas. It's essentially a three-fin cigar rocket with a flattened bottom to turn it into a space shuttle-like vessel that lands on a runway instead of on its tail.
- In Changeling Space Program the ship makes two flights, becoming the first crewed vehicle to orbit Equus's (primary) moon.
- The third flight of Amicitas and its aftermath is the entire premise of The Maretian.
- Show Within a Show:
- CSP: The Look At It! documentary covering CSP Mission 9, complete with Changeling-positive commercial spots.
- The Maretian: The Watney and Company Report on CNN provides some idea of how things are seen on Earth from outside NASA.
- Subspace Ansible: The telepresence spell used to monitor Equestrian spaceflight appears to be instantaneous and has the additional benefit of being immune to the re-entry blackout experienced by conventional radio.
- Wizards from Outer Space: Magic plays a significant role in Equestrian space flight (FTL communications and clairvoyant monitors, magically transported air and water for life support). It does, however, have limitations and rules it has to obey, so science and technology still have a fundamental role. And, of course in The Maretian, the non-human castaways each have a magic specialty of some kind that helps the group survive. (Specifically, Fireball's strength and durability, Spitfire's weather magic, Cherry Berry's affinity with plants, Starlight Glimmer's encyclopedic knowledge of spells, and Dragonfly's... ability to spit up useful kinds of goo.)
Tropes applicable to "My Flight"
- Meaningful Name: Or Meaningful Address — 13 Doublecross Lane.
- Merchandise-Driven: The first two scenes in the story give a double-barrelled Take That! to certain Hasbro toy releases.Pinkie Pie: Sure you can have my ornithopter! I'm not using it anyway, no matter what those toy company executives think!
- Those Magnificent Flying Machines:
- Cherry cobbled together a glider ("...essentially a wooden plank stuck on a crate at right angles.") to teach herself the rudiments of flight. During a break in training, she and Rainbow Dash, who was serving as her flight instructor, discuss the need for some form of roll stability, leading to Cherry's invention of ailerons.
- Cherry's biplane is a wood-and-canvass affair powered by a magic engine (salvaged from a wagon contributed by Applejack originally built by the Flim-Flam brothers).
Tropes applicable to Changeling Space Program
- Abandon Ship: Chrysalis considers this as an eventfullnote CSP Mission 3 starts descending by parachute, only to remember that her wings are bound inside her pressure suit, and thus wouldn't be such a good idea.
- The Alleged Car:
- Or Alleged Spacecraft — CSP Mission Zero. It has a parachute. It has a solid rocket booster. It has a flight chair (complete with bucket for in-space, er, accidents). But the actual space capsule leaves something to be desired... i.e. everything.Cherry Berry: IT'S A BUCKING CARDBOARD BOX!
- In The Maretian, a poster of this "craft" is displayed in the Horseton Space Center museum. It is suggested that Cherry Berry was responsible for its caption, "This is Why We Do Not Do This."
- Or Alleged Spacecraft — CSP Mission Zero. It has a parachute. It has a solid rocket booster. It has a flight chair (complete with bucket for in-space, er, accidents). But the actual space capsule leaves something to be desired... i.e. everything.
- Alliterative List: From narration about Chrysalis after CSP Mission 5:[She] resumed her walk, calm, cool, collected.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Twilight's pursuit of a purely magic-powered single-stage-to-orbit design sufficiently distracts the Equestrian Space Agency to keep the Changeling Space Program neck-and-neck with them in the race to the moon.
- Beleaguered Boss: Cherry Berry, as nominal head of the Changeling Space Program gets to supervise the myriad changelings of varying ability assigned to the space effort, along with the cantankerous Goddard the Griffon and the often overenthusiastic Minotaur scientists. In addition, she has to deal with Chrysalis in both subordinate (as deputy test pilot) and superior (as changeling queen) roles; occasionally simultaneously.
- Berserk Button: Bringing up the renegade changeling Thorax invariably upsets Queen Chrysalis, but that's nothing compared to her reaction whenever someone mentions Kevin:Chrysalis: YOU ARE FORBIDDEN FROM SPEAKING THAT NAME AGAIN IN MY REALM!! UNDERSTOOD??
- Born Lucky: The aptly named Lucky Cricket.
- Propelled by magic to supersonic speeds during initial flight tests. Lands in a Las Pegasus resort swimming pool and contrives to parlay 50 complementary betting chips into 10% ownership of the resort before being asked to leave and getting placed on the "Not Allowed In Casinos" list.
- Often one of the recovery team leaders. In situations where no-ling knows where the capsule will land, it's her team that usually ends up the closest.
- Brain Drain: Never a hotbed of intellectual prowess, Chrysalis's hive finds itself with three competing centers for drones (theoretically) capable of unsupervised work: Horseton Space Center, Cherry's Rocket Parts and Odd Jobs in Appleoosa, and the hive itselfnote . As changelings are gradually accepted into greater Equestrian society, a small number of freelancers also contribute to the drain.
- Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Non-death example after the failure of R1: Chrysalis cannot demote Occupant because nobody else wants his job.
- Centrifugal Farce: Played more or less straight as part of the training regimen.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Double Face fades from the narrative around the time the Horseton Space Center becomes operational.
- Continuity Nod: Despite the storys Alternate Continuity, events proceed close enough to canon to have varying amounts of impact on the plot — albeit in slightly altered order. (The Festival of Friendship and parts of season 7 are somewhat scrambled.) During the lead-up to ESA missions 13, 14 and 15...
- Conservation of Competence: Practically name-checked by Chrysalis, who refers to Occupant at one point as having "used up the competence ration for the hive today". Since the moment of competence lasted for less than ten minutes, and Chrysalis roughly estimates her subjects as numbering thirty thousand or so, this does not speak well of said subjects.
- Death Glare: When sufficiently provoked — e.g. Presented with a space capsule made from a cardboard box or asked by a well-meaning princess to add just one more small piece of equipment to an already iffy rocket design — Cherry Berry can produce a glare that even Chrysalis is hesitant to face.
- Diplomatic Impunity: The reason Chrysalis can start a space program at all. Yes, she tried to conquer Equestria and failed, but she is absolute monarch of the changeling nation (such as it is) and thus can conduct her scheme openly under the cover of peace negotiations.
- Exact Words: After Rainbow Dash's Almost Bad Day, Pinkie withdraws from active work with the Equestrian Space Agency, declaring that she couldn't set hoof at Cape Friendship again and limiting herself to preparing food. However, that doesnt mean she cant show up at Horseton Space Center to help out with robotic control systems.
- Excited Show Title!: For the Show Within a Show, the Look At It! documentary covering CSP Mission 9, complete with Changeling-positive commercial spots.
- Failure Montage: Chapter 2 has a series of changeling flight experiments involving large slingshots, teams of drones using magic boosting a volunteer, combinations of the two, and, finally, Pinkie Pie's party cannon. Results are many injured and disappointed drones.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Chrysalis and Cherry Berry somehow achieve this after sharing the experiences of spaceflight and trying to cope with the changelings under their command. It even gets to the point where Chrysalis merely snarks when informed that Cherry had been serving as temporary Changeling queen.
- Flying Brick: The real-life aviation sense of the trope gets a name check in Chapter 10:Mission 12 flew like a flaming brick, but that suited Dragonfly fine. She liked flying a brick. Keeping a brick pointed where you wanted it to go was a challenge.
- Footnote Fever: Kris has stated on several occasions that Terry Pratchett is one of his major writing influences. CSP has the footnotes to prove it.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: Even though the changelings in general are presented as amiable and foolish, even the particularly dense Elytron has no trouble whatever talking two Canterlot unicorns into walking into an ambush. The guards even take their duties seriously enough to talk back to Chrysalis, up to a point. Their one glaring failure lies with Pinkie Pie's infiltration of Horseton Space Center's R&D complex, but the rules do not apply to Pinkie Pie.
- Happy Dance:
- Occupant and Marked Knee indulge in one of thesenote when they find they have all of the elementsnote needed to launch the ill-fated CSP Mission R1.
- To celebrate the successful trans-lunar injection of CSP mission R2, Marked Knee and Pinkie Pie do the Funky Chicken.
- HeelRace Turn: The only one who knows Chrysalis' actual plan to claim the power of the Moon is Chrysalis herself. Celestia, Luna, Twilight, and even Cherry Berry all suspect there's more to the space program than just "an enormously expensive exercise in public relations", but Celestia is betting that openly integrating changelings into Equestrian society in furtherance of the space program will be enough of an overall benefit to stick. The more changelings that do not think of ponies as a food source, the less likely they would blindly follow Chrysalis' orders to start a war, perhaps even rail against it, and Chrysalis ultimately wants to keep her people happy.
- Hidden Depths: Space Tourist Jet Set, as owner of an airship construction firm, has several useful suggestions for improvements to the CSP passenger module.
- Inflating Body Gag: When Cherry Berry wakes up from a changeling-induced dream (about spaceflight and cherries), she notices the guard who had been feeding off her love as she slept, and how he's now "nearly spherical".
- Kick the Dog: A footnote mentions that Queen Chrysalis has done this multiple times in the past, just to see the dogs' faces afterwards.
- Klatchian Coffee: During the work up to Luna's space tourism flight, she arranges for her own special blend of beans and the equipment to brew it. After an unfortunate incident when another tourist accidentally drank a cup and subsequently attempted to become the first griffon to perform a sonic rainboom......labels were added to the coffee pots: REGULAR, DECAF, and WAIVER REQUIRED.
- Made of Explodium: In the tradition of Kerbal Space Program...Everyone at the table stiffened as they heard the faint but unmistakable sound of an explosion through the administration building walls.
"What was that?" Cherry asked.
"A rupture of the liquid fuel storage tanks?" von Brawn guessed, rising from his chair.
"An accident in Marked Knee's lab?" George Bull suggested. "He's been working hard on his new electronic calculating engine."
"Electronics explode?" Chrysalis asked.
"This is a rocket flight center," Goddard grumbled, rising to an arthritic hover over the table. "EVERYTHING explodes."
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Many of the scientific and technical experts Chrysalis recruits are based on pioneers in rocketry, mathematics, and electronics. A few other pioneers and notable space-related celebrities make an appearance as part of competing programs or tourists.
- Goddard the Griffon: Robert Goddard (rocketry)
- Warner von Brawn: Wernher von Braun (rocketry)
- George Bull: George Boole (mathematics, particularly digital logic)
- Lord George Cowley: Sir George Cayley (aeronautics)
- Marked Knee: Guglielmo Marconi (radio)
- Popov the Yak: Alexander Stepanovich Popov (radio)
- Lord Garriott de Gryphon: Richard Garriott (space tourist)
- Not the Fall That Kills You : Discussed as Hobble Jimenez imparts this nugget of wisdom to Jet Set and Upper Crust during their free fall training in the vertical wind tunnel.
- Oh, No... Not Again!: Cherry Berry's reaction when Flim and Flam show up at Horseton Space Center and start singing about their mobile TV production facility.
- Only Sane Man: Cherry Berry and Chrysalis both try to rein in overly enthusiastic changelings and boffins with tenuous connections to reality.
- Pass the Popcorn: Chrysalis's first thought when seeing half a dozen changelings cowering from Cherry Berry's wrath at the Cardboard Box Space Capsule.
- Patter Song:
- Flim and Flam repurposed "Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" to expound on their mobile television production studio ("Super Sailing Studio 6000").
- "Appy is Uppy" is a fairly entertaining (and catchy) way of getting across terms used when navigating in space.
- Pen-Pushing President: Or Pen-Pushing Semi-enlightened Despot. "Going legit" has saddled Chrysalis with a vastly increased burden of paperwork. Documentation for her subjects (birth certificates, background checks, employment and rental references, etc.), diplomatic and commercial correspondance, etc.
- Post-Victory Collapse: Chrysalis, after successfully piloting a fraughtnote CSP Mission 5 and keeping up a nonchalant front while being chewed out by Cherry Berry...[She] resumed her walk, calm, cool, collected, opening the admin building door with her magic, stepping into the portable building, and closing it behind her.
Only alone among the deserted desks, with the door locked, did she allow herself to slowly flop over onto her side.
A few seconds later she curled up into a fetal ball as the shakes began.
- The Radio Dies First: During the second phase of CSP mission 21 (Orbital rendezvous and rescue), the telepresence spell crystal on Dragonfly's ship is damaged as result of a glancing impact with the Griffon capsule, cutting off communication with Horseton. This forces Dragonfly to compute her orbital adjustments on her own.
- Red Ones Go Faster: An article of faith among changelings, expressed during the initial rocket design meetings.
- Still the Leader: After her recovery from petrification, Chrysalis is slightly unsettled when she finds that Cherry Berry has done as good a job, if not slightly better, as acting Queen. She spends a non-trivial amount of time looking for something substantive to do. Things eventually return to normal once Cherry starts concentrating on prep for her next mission.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Queen Chrysalis' hive are, on the whole, extremely loyal and enthusiastic about whatever projects she has for them. Unfortunately, the number of changelings that can be trusted to perform tasks without close supervision is rather small.
- Swivel-Chair Antics: Luna enjoyed her time in the multi-axis trainer chair so much that she ordered one for her personal use.
- Talking to Themself: Pinkie Pie's internal monologue in Chapter 11 bifurcates into an argument/discussion.It shouldn't even be a question. We—
Wait a minute. This is me talking to myself, right? So shouldn't it be I instead of we?
I don't know. Talking to myself is so confusing!
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Chrysalis and Twilight throughout preparation and execution of CSP-23/ESA-13.
- That One Sidequest: One would think that taking a Flea booster to altitude for a test would be a simple straightforward contract, and not something that takes 4 attempts.
- Those Two Guys: On multiple occasions two anonymous changeling guards are given the spotlight while they gossip about conditions at that point in the story.
- Too Good to Be True: The first half of CSP mission 11 (first planetary orbit) proceeds much too smoothly for Cherry Berry's comfort, due to a particularly grueling set of simulator runs during preparation.
- Training Montage: As part of the build-up to CSP missions 13 and 14, we get glimpses of the prospective space tourists' training (both physical and academic) regimen.
- Try Not to Die:Chrysalis: [to Cherry Berry, about to fly CSP-06] Remember this, pony. Don't mess this up. You are not allowed to mess this up. Nopony wants a Bad Day.
- You Are in Command Now: In the wake of the Storm King's invasion, Cherry Berry finds herself acting Queen of the changelingsnote in order to keep things running while she organizes a mission to rescue three astronautsnote stranded in Equus orbit.
- You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Chrysalis usually addresses Cherry Berry simply as "pony". On those occasions when she actually uses her real name, it's usually because she's one very short step from revoking breathing privileges.
- You Didn't Ask: Luna's explanation to why she hadn't bothered to correct the "flat disk with celestial dome" model proposed by Clover the Clever: "She never asked us."
Tropes applicable to The Maretian
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: After eating Mark's leftover turkey, Fireball gets one based on the television the crew has been watching.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: On Sol 7, Mark describes Cherry Berry (emphasis added).Mark: The first of these little horse alien things is pink — pink like your kid sister's Pretty Pansy Princess Playroom Set.
- Alien Arts Are Appreciated: Starlight initially considers Disco to be "excellent breaking-edge music".
- Alien Lunch: Mark expects this trope to apply to the ponies and any meat. Spitfire picks up on this and uses it to squick him out by claiming to like to eat fish whole — bones, heads, and all. When Mark later serves her the bacon portion of one of his meal packs as revenge, the trope gets played straight.
- Anti-Mutiny: After the Hab breach of Sol 88, Cherry Berry, who feels she has failed as leader of the pony crew, attempts to resign as mission commander. The others aren't having it, not even Spitfire, who up to this point has felt awkward about being the lowest-ranking member of the crew after being commander of Equestria's most elite military unit.Is it a mutiny when the crew is forcing the captain to keep giving orders? Dragonfly asked.
Yes!! Cherry Berry snapped.
- Background Magic Field: The absence of this on Mars is a critical problem for the ponies. The initial stress of attempting to draw mana from the nonexistent field caused a cascade failure that destroyed all but two of the ponies' mana batteries. Life does generate some mana, which allows a slow recharge of their remaining batteries, but initially, all the life on Mars fits in the Ares III Hab with lots of room to spare. It is later realized that the Amicitas' crew, having evolved in a universal magic field, require said field for their health. While changelings would starve to death in months, dragons would simply take longer by wasting away, and it is postulated that ponies would eventually suffer a permanent loss of their magic abilities.
- Bilingual Dialogue: Although he can't speak Equestrian, Mark does pick up enough vocabulary and grammar to understand what the ponies are saying in their native language.
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: The translation spell Starlight Glimmer cobbles together to speak with Mark Watney tends to do this, especially when confronted with the literal nature of pony-world names. For example, the spell at one point renders Spitfire's name as "Slobberflame". Between this problem and the fact that the spell can only be used for about ninety seconds before Starlight collapses from exhaustion, it's no wonder that she pushes hard to get everyone to learn English.
- Box-and-Stick Trap: For a test launch of a magic-powered launch system, Mark Watney has improvised a deadfall "switch" that reminds Dragonfly of one of these. Dragonfly hates them because they're stupid... but they still work anyway. Including on other members of her own species.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: Both Mark and NASA resort to this. Mark raids the Carl Sagan Memorial Station on Mars to collect most of the Pathfinder probe (and the Sojourner rover). NASA pulls its terrestrial duplicate out of the Smithsonian for their engineers to work on.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Mark references the trope after the ponies tell him the story of Trixie Lulamoon and the Alicorn Amulet.For you or me, the day a stage magician shows up with real magic power and forces the town to kneel before his/her might would be a turning point in our dreary little lives. For ponies, it's Tuesday. Bear this in mind if you're tempted to make diplomatic threats.
- Call to Agriculture: After returning to Equestria, Cherry Berry purchases a small plot of land on the outskirts of Ponyville for a small cherry orchard as a place for Groot to live.
- Celebrity Paradox: In Mark's universe, the My Little Pony franchise does not exist, so the sight of brightly colored ponies instead reminds him of Care Bears.
- Child Prodigy: The four-year-old Flurry Heart continues to demonstrate her precociousness when she teleports to the Concordia to visit Cadance (who was filling in as ship's commander while Chrysalis was overseeing repulsor spell launch tests).
- Cut the Juice: A hardware malfunction in the computer used to generate the timing signal for the Phoenix's Sparkle Drive system causes the drive to engage at maximum frequency (1 billion jumps per second). As the mana batteries drain precipitously and the risk of catastrophic crystal failure rises, Mark averts total disaster by disconnecting the computer (yanking out the cable), stopping any further teleports.
- Determinator: Pretty much all the castaways. Except Dragonfly, who gives up after she has her magic-starvation-induced monster breakdown. It takes two months in a cocoon followed by a scolding by Starlight Glimmer to get her back on track.
- Dinky Drivers: Mark compares the Whinnybago's jury-rigged fore-and-aft-drivers steering system to two small children attempting to drive a car with one at the wheel and the other on the pedals.
- Disaster Dominoes:
- The chain of events leading to the Equestrians getting stuck on Mars. Bonus points for contributing to the storm that strands Mark as well.
- Also, the outcome of the launch of the Ares IV MAV, rechristened Phoenix.
- Distant Finale: Some time after Mark is returned to Earth (long enough for him to earn his Botany PhD), we see how the various Martian castaways have fared. Enters Fast Forward to Reunion territory, with a slight delay due to a jammed door.
- Dope Slap: On discussing Applejack and the kind of monsters she fought, Dragonfly includes Changelings and gets smacked on the head by Spitfire for "bragging about being evil". Starlight then enumerates other monsters, concluding with "And, um, me," and then covering her horn with both forehooves as Spitfire gets closer. Cherry Berry orders Spitfire to cut it out before another dope slap happens, though.
- Eldritch Abomination: They stop the efforts to locate the astronauts with extradimensional probes cold. There are a few close calls with attracting the attention of dangerous beings, such as when a Decepticon nearly gets their hands on a probe. But the final line is when they encounter an entity where even the saved video of it is enough to come to life and being attacking everypony's minds... until they're rescued by the local dimensional eldritch abomination counterpart of Pinkie Pie. Eldritch Pinkie also makes sure to close off its dimension by erasing the original footage so the vulnerable Equestrians can't be attacked again. At that point, the program is immediately shut down and they have to explore other options to find the correct dimensional coordinates. They later sent along a safety message to Earth's dimension, warning them to not make dimension-hopping probes.
- Everyone Knows Morse: Well, at least Dragonfly, Twilight, Spike, and Drying Paint (the duty watchmare at Cape Friendship, and former telegraph operator) know the pony equivalent. Mark initially needs a cheat sheet for his Morse messages.
- Everything's Better with Plushies: Mark fancifully wishes for plushies of all of his companions. Hasbro, along with a plethora of not-necessarily-authorized independent fan-creators have them for sale by the time the castaways are ready to leave Mars.
- Exposed Extraterrestrials: Although the natives of Equus do have jump suits and spacesuit undergarments with them, they come from a society where clothing is usually a fashion option rather than a necessity. Early on Mark comments that he is reminded on a daily basis that two-thirds of the Hab population is now female.
- Failsafe Failure: At the beginning, Amicitas loses all but its two emergency mana batteries to a failure cascade. The systems which would have prevented this all depended on the same ambient mana that the ship ran on. No mana = no failsafes = no batteries.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Happens unintentionally when a computer keyboard failure results in overclocking the Sparkle Drive. One billion jumps per second, at half a meter per jump, equals 67% faster than the speed of light.
- First Contact: Yes, but there are more pressing issues immediately confronting the castaways than pondering the significance of the meeting.
- First Contact Math: One of the first things Starlight does when trying to communicate with Mark is to stomp out numerical sequences. This leads him to conclude:Obviously this can only mean one thing: she's a sci-fi geek who's read all the classic first-contact stories.
- Five-Man Band: The Amicitas crew, as they actually function. Cherry Berry is The Leader, Spitfire is The Lancer, Starlight Glimmer is The Smart Guy, Fireball is The Big Guy, and Dragonfly is The Chick. Mark Watney tends to fall into the role of The Mentor.
- Five-Token Band: The reason the five crewmembers of Amicitas were chosen. Two members each of Equus's two leading space programs, plus a veteran of one of the discontinued smaller programs. One each of the three pony tribes, one changeling, and a dragon to represent the other speaking races. Although the crew did have their duties and were given training for the sections they did not excel in, Twilight Sparkle chose the crew to maximize popular support rather than to pick the best-integrated team, because the mission, a manned scouting mission at best, was only expected to run five days, maximum (the space exploration equivalent of a a three-hour tour). Fortunately for the crew, the selections worked out much better than planned, partly because the team included Equestria's most experienced space pilot, the most powerful unicorn of her generation, a more-intelligent-than-average changeling, an elite military officer... and Fireball. To be fair though, most of Fireball's duties involved extravehicular activity in space, backup pilot, and spacesuit safety checks, one of which is useless on a planet and the other made moot by flight engineer Dragonfly being the only one that could repair their only set of suits. This largely left him as the super-strong guy.
- Foreign Cuss Word: One Equestrian word that Mark has no difficulty pronouncing gets (re)translated as buck. (As used in many MLP fanfics as a substitute for the f-word.)
- Foreign Queasine: The Vehicle Assembly Supervisor at Jiuquan contemplates subjecting Mitch Henderson to this ("...the traditional dishes of our back-country work force..."); Mitch has been expressing his anxiety by trying to boss around the Chinese engineers working to complete the Sleipnir 5 resupply rocket.
- Genius Loci: Maybe. Mars certainly gives the impression of being actively hateful and malevolent, and aiming deadly storms or other mishaps at them whenever it gets enough mana from the castaway's experiments to do so. And Dragonfly certainly begins to sense malevolence from it as part of her growing ability to sense the emotions of inanimate objects... that may also be all in her head. And it's also possible that storms and atmospheric effects and the difficulty of spaceflight are simply a side effect of magic in this universe. Between this and the general effects of Murphy's Law, as well as the fact that NASA really doesn't want to come out and say "We think Mars is evil and wants our astronauts dead," it stays ambiguous leaning slightly in favor.
- Genre Savvy: Mark is snapped out of his catatonic state when placed in a situation common to many Sci-fi/horror movies:Mark: When you see an egg or a pod or a cocoon or anything like that in a space cave, especially if it's black, you leave it the fuck alone!!
- Gesundheit: When Starlight is suggesting new books to read, Fireball says "Bless you," after hearing the name Isaac Asimov.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man:
- After Dragonfly has cocooned herself, the others ask home for help getting her out again. What follows is Chrysalis's half sarcasm, half test prescription to wake her up again to test the others' reaction:
- When Dragonfly finally emerges, Starlight Glimmer, afraid that Dragonfly has become a ravenous monster, attempts to apply Chrysalis's procedure. Dragonfly reacts about as you'd expect someone getting whacked on the head right after waking up to react.
- Afterwards, Spitfire keeps the stick and uses it to admonish Dragonfly for being too angsty. Once Cherry Berry figures out Spitfire's mostly doing it for her own relief, and that Dragonfly is going along with the gag, she puts a stop to it.
- Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Mark catches himself thinking "darn" rather than "damn" and wonders if he's been around the ponies for too long, despite regular exposure to Cherry's Sir Swears-a-Lot outbursts and Alien Troll Queen Spitfire. A few minutes later, however, he's back to his usual colorful vocabulary, so it was probably just a brief lapse.
- Green Around the Gills: As a consequence of Spitfire's "Crunch, crunch, crunch" prank, Mark goes a slightly palid green. Somewhat more impressively, so does Cherry Berry, through her bright pink coat.
- Higher-Tech Species: Both sides initially believe this of the other, and neither are necessarily wrong. (Earth computers/electronics/rockets are about half a century ahead of Equestria's, and the Equestrians have the benefit of Sufficiently Analyzed Magic.)
- Humans Are Smelly: Especially after a couple of weeks in close quarters with extremely limited hygiene facilities.
- Hurl It into the Sun: This is the plan for the repulsor spell launch system Mars test payload. Doesn't quite get there, but the final trajectory is close enough to vaporize the package.
- Hurricane of Puns: Mark occasionally indulges in his log. e.g. Sol 251 commentary on "rock farms":I must ask to see one of these "rock farms" they keep talking about. I bet they grow some smashing pumpkins along their black-eyed peas and red hot chili peppers. (And I know, somewhere, a music historian is groaning that this entry is a bunch of korn.)
- In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted with the first "Group Photo" sent to Earth after radio contact is reestablished. (Everyone had their polarized helmet visors down, and Starlight wasn't going to risk a lapse in concentration while maintaining an air bubble spell.)
- Insufficiently Advanced Alien: Mark's general reaction to Equestrian space flight after he learns a bit more about their unbelievably rapid space race.
- Interdimensional Travel Device:
- Unintended consequence of failure to limit the Sparkle Drive's collision avoidance system to just three dimensions. Later used purposefully for the search-and-rescue mission.
- The Mirror Portal to the Equestria Girls universe also makes a brief appearance.
- Is This Thing Still On?: On Sol 426 the castaways test voice radio communication with Hermes. While waiting for message turnaround, Mark and Fireball have a long conversation about quitting the astronaut biz. (This while rescue is still over four months away.) Their mikes are hot for all of it. And because of lightspeed lag, they don't find out for over nine minutes. Mark backpedals immediately once he finds out: the two realize and agree that they shouldn't resign until Mark gets his backpay and Fireball gets back his worldly possessions from the Dragon Lord, respectively.
- I Want My Jetpack: For all Mark's remarks about how the Equestrians are insane, he also states that they're exploring space the way humans should have, dang it!They're not wasting time with their space program. One day they just decided, "Let's go to space!" And from that day they threw everything they had at it — magic, science, courage, and political will. For most of my lifetime we had the science and the courage, but not the will. Now we've got it back. Don't give it up again.
- Language Barrier: An early obstacle that is initially overcome via temporary Translator Microbes (magic) and more permanently through hard work.
- The Last Man Heard a Knock...: As Mark concludes his Sol 6 "So I'm stuck alone on Mars" log entry, a knock on the airlock door gives him cause to reconsider the notion.
- "Last Supper" Steal: After contact with Earth is reestablished, one piece of fan-art is clearly inspired by this. Naturally, defictionalized with some actual fan-art.The shot panned from left to right, showing first the five Ares III crew members on Hermes in various poses; then, in the center, Mark Watney, looking wryly amused but not particularly holy; then the five alien castaways; and finally, in the position of Judas, a Roman centurion fingering a bloody sword and wearing a most unpleasant smile.
- Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid: The characters name-check this trope on Sol 268, discussing the precise stupid alignment of various 1970s/'80s TV characters. Later, after coming out of her cocoon, Dragonfly deliberately crafts a character that embraces the trope:Dragonfly: Bash all the things. But in a lawful good way. For the glory of Insert Deity Here.
- Learnt English from Watching Television: '70s sitcoms and action shows, with saving grace The Electric Company. Also Beatles and disco song lyrics. Eventually, more formal English lessons are provided.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: On Sol 234, Starlight doing a test with the magic batteries to create a temporary magic field results in a spontaneous song for the Equestrian castaways, and Mark gets caught into it. After the song ends, the human is rather amazed, but Starlight and Fireball inform him that they don't talk about it — ever. And that means, stop talking about it.
- LOL, 69: Sol 69 is when sex-related terms language lessons happen.
- Mana: A critical limiting factor in how much the ponies can contribute to survival on Mars. Life generates mana, which can be collected and stored in purpose-made batteries. So food production not only supplies needed calories for consumption, but also mana which can then be used to enhance earth pony agricultural abilities (Yay, more food!), cast useful spells, or enchant objects (like more batteries, or a replacement Sparkle Drive crystal). It is also later realized that changelings also feed off of ambient mana, and the other Equestrians require mana for their overall health.
- Meaningful Rename: The formerly nameless Ares IV MAVnote is christened Phoenix by Cherry Berry, partly after the magical reviving bird, partly from an Earth story related to the ponies much earlier in the story. The new name turns out to be much more meaningful than originally intended.
- The Merch: In-universe, the Equestrians ask NASA to manage the legalities and marketing of toys and other merchandise based on the castaways. The Equestrians ultimately choose Hasbro as the winning proposal for the right to make pony toys.
- Multistage Teleport: Because the magic cost of a single teleport scales exponentially with distance jumped, the underlying principle of the Sparkle Drive uses very short, high-frequency jumps — typically less than 5 meters, performed several thousand times per second. (For reference, 1,000 one-meter jumps per second works out to just over 2,200 miles per hour, or about three times the speed of sound.)
- The Multiverse: Not just CSP Equestria and Mars. Exploration probes sent to locate the castaways find their way to several other alternate Equestrias (including Equestria Girls) and universes containing Transformers, Gundams...
- Mundane Utility: The Equestrians figure out a way to use the water dispensers in their spacesuits as a telegraph to communicate with their home.
- Nightmare Fuel: Following the successful test of the repulsor spell launch technique on Mars...Venkat: It worked perfectly. It worked absolutely perfectly.
Mitch: I wish you hadn't said that...
Venkat: Why's that?
Mitch: Usually the first time you try to launch anything, it blows up on the pad. Or there's some other in-flight glitch. But everything went right in the test. So what's going to happen next time, when they do it for real?
Venkat: [sighing] Thanks a lot, Mitch. I was just running short of nightmare fuel. Thanks very much for topping me off.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Toyed with, if not outright averted, in the case of Dragonfly. After she comes out of her cocoon, Starlight Glimmer points out that it's not about emotions or morals: the others simply won't be able to escape Mars without Dragonfly's unique abilities. (Though to be fair, emotions and morals would lead to the trope being upheld; it's just that there are more fundamental reasons for saving Dragonfly too.)
- Off the Rails: Once Mark and co. start playing D&D, we get a few incidents of this kind.
- Mark sets up an encounter with a Dread Gazebo. Starlight logically argues that her cleric can parley with it, charms it with the successful natural 20 roll she needed, and adds it to the party.
- Starlight begins her first stint as DM with a heavy-duty epic quest laid out at the party's feet. Fireball immediately suggests going airship pirate instead, with everyone else quickly agreeing. Cue Head Desk from Starlight.
- OOC Is Serious Business:
- The other equestrians notice that Dragonfly has stopped her usual "silly changeling" routine and are concerned that it may be concealing a more serious problem.
- Dr. Shields cites Mark's lack of snark as one symptom of the crew's exhaustion following Dragonfly's indisposition.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: To create an instance of "World's Best" Character: After the ponies spent a sol, on Mars, grooming for photos sent to NASA, Mark proudly claims, "I am, after all, the most popular and exclusive spa host on the whole planet."
- Party Game: Of the classic variety, during the Summer Sun Celebration party (Sol 296): "Pin the Antenna in the Watney," using a locker, a spare jump suit, and the antenna fragment that got Mark stranded on Mars in the first place. Spitfire wins.
- Public Exposure: Spitfire reacts to a troll's crude sexual re-editing of a radio interview and the subsequent NASA request for photos of the ponies being cute by deliberately making lewd, butt-exposing poses in every camera shot. Later in the story, one of the other Ares astronauts, Rick Martinez, reports that some Air Force pilots keep copies of these lewd photos on their locker doors.Spitfire: We are not children. We will not let you act like we are children... Also tell Earth I show you what none of you will ever have.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: Late in the story, Mark speculates that the ponies might have used a metaphorical version of this.Did our universe, hostile as it is, feel a little sorry for them? Did they make puppy-dog eyes at reality, and have it work?
- Raging Stiffie: Mark has a couple of embarrassing incidents of this sort while sleeping in close quarters with the ponies. The first time resulted in a pair of hoof-shaped indentations in Rover 2's passenger bench. The second resulted in a hoofprint on his chest.
- Retconjuration: A benevolent Eldritch Abomination Pinkie applies this to Angel 16's film record, ensuring that no unfortunate inter-dimensional leakage can occur, because said film record never existed in the first place.
- Rube Goldberg Device: The method devised by Mark and company for launching Phoenix; referred to as such by the NASA ground crew. The Sojourner rover is positioned at the low end of a seesaw and programmed to drive up it. When the high end tips down, it closes a circuit and triggers the ship's magic booster engines.
- Running Gag: The ponies, Starlight Glimmer in particular, repeatedly insisting that various failures of humanity or the universe they live in would be solved if only humans had immortal princesses ruling over them.Starlight Glimmer: Earth needs more princesses.
Mark: [sighing] For the eighty-seventh time, it does not.
- Scrapbook Story: Much of the story is told through mission logs (some written by Mark, others by the ponies) and transcripts of communications between Mars, Earth, and Equestria.
- Slices, Dices, and Makes Julienne Fries: Mark's Sol 207 log entry mentions the line in reference to the utility of unicorn magic.
- Soap Punishment: From Sols 40-41:Can you say, "oh shit?" Sure, I knew you could. And I'll be waiting here until your mommies get done washing your mouths out with soap.
- Spontaneous Choreography: The spontaneous singingnote part happens a couple of times, to the bewilderment of human observers and participants alike.Don't ask us why we sing
It's just a pony thing
— Dragonfly during the adaptation of Space Oddity.
- Switching P.O.V.: Narrative viewpoint rotates between the six castaways in limited third person (or first person in the case of Mark's journal entries) with occasional shifts to the crew of the Hermes, NASA personnel on Earth, or even back to Equestria. Every now and then, there are passages in omniscient third person. True to the source material, these tend to be harbingers of misfortune.
- Teeth Flying: On Sol 90, after the crew stop Cherry Berry from resigning, notably through Fireball restraining her, she tells him to report to the medic for injuries... before giving him an uppercut hard enough to break a tooth. The dragon is less distressed by the pain than by the fact a pony broke his tooth, which he would never hear the end of it in the Dragon Lands.
- Tempting Fate: Any time one of the crew suggests that things are looking up, Murphy raises his head to snicker. After a few incidents, they learn to be more judicious about their statements.
- Translator Microbes: Starlight has a spell that allows limited translation between English and Equestrian, but it has problems dealing with metaphors and technical jargon. This and the limited availability of magic makes learning English a priority for the Equestrians.
- Try Not to Die:Sol 109:
ESA: To Fireball. Message begins. Quote. By power of the Bloodstone Scepter you are ordered to not die, nor allow anyone with you to die, until we come to rescue you. You will demonstrate superior dragon strength, courage and wisdom by protecting your crewmates and keeping them safe from harm. This is a command from your lawful Dragonlord, and you shall obey! Got it? End quote. Over.
- T-Word Euphemism: Mark attempts to document one of Cherry's Sir Swearsalot incidents in his log:I'm sure that in among the angry horse noises was the F-bomb, the S-bomb, one or two Q-bombs and a Silent-J-bomb.
- The Unpronounceable: Mark describes the Equestrian language as "horse Welsh" and is physically incapable of reproducing several of its vowels. (His attempts to speak it generally result in embarrassingly scatological or anatomical phrases.)
- Unreliable Expositor: Dragonfly claims to sense first the emotions of certain inanimate things... and then to hear their voices. Considering that throughout the story she suffers from a steadily worsening case of magical malnutrition, this could be entirely in her head, as she is the first to admit. Or... possibly not...
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: Although it's mentioned that Cherry Berry failed her fair share of simulator runs learning to fly the MAV, one particular run personally overseen by Major Martinez on Hermes was designed to be unwinnable... and Cherry (with Spitfire as copilot) won it anyway. The solution involved jettisoning over six hundred kilograms of materiel out the airlock, misusing maneuvering thrusters to provide constant acceleration until the fuel ran out, then refilling them and doing it again. The ponies were about to get out and push the spaceship when the simulation program reported a successful result (i.e. eventual rendezvous with a simulated Hermes). And then Cherry shocks the humans on Hermes by saying she wasn't bothered because she's done all these things before in actual flight.
- "World's Best" Character: By way of an Overly Narrow Superlative. After the ponies spent a sol, on Mars, grooming for photos sent to NASA, Mark proudly claims, "I am, after all, the most popular and exclusive spa host on the whole planet."
- Your Other Left: A recurring problem upon the first test of the "Whinnybago", since the cockpit of the ex-Amicitas is mounted backward relative to the rover carrying it. Thus, the steering of the landing gear used as wheel must be reversed from whatever direction the rover is taking, leading to a lot of confusion and frustration for the designated pilot (Fireball). This is later solved by putting two half-circles of metal with graduations that are mirror-imaged over the respective steering wheels.