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Literature / The Martian

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"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 in 2011, then as an eBook through Amazon Kindle, then finally printed by Crown Publishing.

20 Minutes into the Future, Mark Watney is an astronaut who is part of the third manned mission to Mars. Soon after they land, 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. 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. In other words, a Robinsonade In SPAAAAACE.

It utilizes accurate science and is based on technologies which are being researched for Real Life manned Mars missions. 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".

A film adaptation, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney, was released in October 2015 to much critical acclaim. The page for the film is here.

Weir would later write a series related short stories taking place before and after the novel, collected in audiobook editions as "From The Files of Mark Watney":

  • "Diary of an AssCan", Astronaut Candidate Mark Watney learns that he has been selected for the Ares 3 mission, and learns the names of his future crewmates. He laments that he won't get to spend more than a month on the Red Planet.
  • "I Made It", Mark writes a letter to his mom letting her know he will be going to Mars, and assuring her of how safe he will be.
  • "Car Trouble", Mark writes his mom to tell her about how he got out of a tense situation when he found himself marooned in an inhospitable desert with no way to call for help... because his car broke down in western Texas after he forgot his phone charger.
  • "The Earthling", Mark begins keeping a journal detailing his struggles adapting to life back on Earth, and he has a reunion with an old crewmate.
  • "Lost Sols", A email was sent to Venkat Kapoor notifying the recovery of corrupt data logs from Mark's laptop during his time on Mars. The newly-recovered logs depicts an event between Sol 488 and 491 where Mark drove into a ravine and how he got out.

The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absent Aliens: Despite being titled "The Martian" there are no traditional Little Green Men or the like — it’s the human stuck on Mars who is the eponymous "Martian". 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, nor does he meet any "Martians".
    Mark: Once I got back to the Hab, I felt a lot better. Everything was right where I left it (what did I expect, Martians looting my stuff?)
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The Classroom edition changes one of Mark's Crowning Moments of Funny to this.
    JPL: By the way, the probe is named Iris. She was a Greek goddess who traveled the heavens with the speed of wind. She's also the goddess of rainbows.
    Mark: Pride parade probe coming to save me. Got it.
  • 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, which he notes as being especially ironic. The real problem is filtering out the carbon dioxide, not getting enough oxygen.
  • The Aloner: Population of Mars: 1.
  • Alternate Calendar: The mission is counted in "Sols", as a Martian day is thirty-seven minutes and twenty-two seconds longer than an Earth one. The book begins on Sol 6 and ends on Sol 549.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Rich Purnell takes everything extremely literally, with sarcasm flying right over his head, and has poor social skills.
  • America Saves the Day: Averted. China steps in when all is lost.
  • 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."
  • Anthropic Principle: A lot have things have to line up just right for the story and for Watney to get home.
  • Apocalyptic Log: A couple of Mark's mission log entries are recorded at a time when there's a high probability they'll become this trope. In fact, his entire reason for recording the log in the first place is so that something of his story would survive if he didn’t, and it became a habit.
  • Artistic License: In any book that pays this much attention to detail, there are inevitably going to be a few details that are questionable. Weir himself freely admits that, although he pushed as hard as he could toward more realism, he went ahead and just went with plot needs for a few things:
    • 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. Though, in fairness, it was still being used far longer than NASA had intended.
    • 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. Mark greatly overstates the danger, claiming this pure oxygen at 1 atmosphere could damage his "nervous system, eyes, and lungs," when in fact oxygen at this partial pressure will at most cause irritation of the lungs and breathing passages, even then only after 12 hours or so of continuous exposure. Nerve damage (with rapid and possibly fatal effect) wouldn't be an issue unless the suit had both 100% oxygen and increased its pressure to over 1.6 atmospheres — something that only comes up with hyperbaric chambers and deep-sea diving. (Were this not the case, patients on therapeutic oxygen on Earth would drop dead left and right.) Though to be fair, Mark isn't a doctor and had just been stranded on Mars.
    • The nature of the Hab canvas; specifically, its ability to shield Mark from radiation approximately as well as Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field, as current plans for radiation shielding on planets lacking those is to bury the modules in at least three feet of metal-rich dirt — and run for cover whenever a solar flare occurs. Not good for when Mark needs to spend weeks away from the Hab.
    • 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. However, at the time the book was written this was not yet known — and some experiments undertaken since have shown potatoes to have a higher perchlorate tolerance than previously thought. Weir has suggested that you could also just wash the perchlorates out of the soil.note 
      • Mark's math with doubling potatoes is highly optimistic and in real life would likely overstress the plants too much and simply kill them. Then again, it's not as though he has much choice in the matter.
    • The use of 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen as breathing gas at 1 atmosphere pressure should be noted as an Averted Trope. Although an atmosphere of pure oxygen at 20% atmospheric pressure is perfectly breathable, reduces the strength requirement of pressure vessels, and greatly simplifies air handling — and for these reasons was typical in manned NASA programs into the 1970s — this setup was never very popular in the Soviet space program and fell out of favor in NASA around the beginning of Skylab. By the time the NASA Shuttle was built NASA was copying the Soviet procedure of using the 20%/80% oxygen/nitrogen mix at atmospheric pressure. The nitrogen in the 20/80 mix offers thermal mass to help inhibit the formation of fires, and the greater density of the 20/80 mix makes it easier to circulate and heat/cool air. It's the standard living conditions for the International Space Station and likely any future manned missions.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: In-universe, this is one of the things that tips off Vogel on the fact there's something up with an e-mail supposedly sent by his wife. It's in incorrect German, and it's more glaring because his wife is a teacher. As it turns out, it's an American who sent it to try and slip past anyone who might be watching at NASA.
  • 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.
  • As You Know:
    • Watney explains things to his journal that are no-brainers to NASA workers, but he assumes early on that his records will eventually be discovered by historians (in some future where Mars has experienced widespread colonization), and so he explains everything he's doing. This not only makes good sense in-universe, but it clues in the non-technical audience, too!
      Mark: I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this...
    • When NASA re-establishes radio communication with Mark, the technician manning the radio link takes a moment to explain the nature of the light-speed response delay to Venkat. When it's pointed out to him that Venkat — the head of the Mars program — knows this kind of thing already, the technician replies that in his experience you can never be sure with people in management positions.
  • 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. The answer, in case you're curious...  Independent of that, Mark Watney also exhibits some legitimate ADHD symptoms which may have been intentional or accidental, but some real life astronauts have said they particularly recognize his calmness under extreme pressure and problem solving ability.
  • Author Appeal: Beyond the love of science and NASA that fuels quite a bit of the author's work (see Casey and Andy), there are quite a few references to disco music in this novel. Downplayed as it's a minor character that loves disco, while Watney himself suffers through it.
  • 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.
  • 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 only a few days later.
    • For his trip to Schiaparelli crater, Mark cobbles together a sextant to get his latitude by sighting Deneb (Mars' North Star) and figures his longitude by noting the time Phobos sets. He even remarks that it's a bit astonishing that he's an astronaut on Mars surrounded by the most advanced technology available, and he's navigating using 16th-century tools.
  • 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.
  • 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 using equipment not designed for the job.
    • Stated almost word-for-word when Mark's water reclaimer breaks down. NASA starts panicking and holding meetings about what the problem might be. Mark, who by this point has accidentally turned the Hab into a bomb, nearly blown himself up while defusing said bomb, figured out how to grow potatoes on an uninhabitable dust planet, and adapted a short-range rover for long journeys, doesn't bat an eye. He even points out that he has enough spare water to take a bath if he so chooses, so a broken water reclaimer isn't remotely life-threatening.
      Mark: To them [i.e. NASA], equipment failure is terrifying. To me, it's Tuesday.
  • Captain's Log: The framing device for everything written from Mark's point of view. It's probably the only thing stopping him from cracking up from loneliness. Even then, there are a few times it's implied that's a very near thing.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Mark is able to maintain his humor even in dire situations. In-universe, it's explicitly mentioned as one of the attributes that contributed to him being selected for the mission in the first place.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "One problem at a time."
    • "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's still alive. Though she doesn't know it at the time, Watney doesn't hold any ill will whatsoever towards her, because he understands there was a very good chance that everyone would have died if she'd delayed the crew's departure in an attempt to find him. He's later less than pleased to find out that NASA is considering throwing her to the wolves in an effort to save face, and informs them in no uncertain terms that he will do everything in his power to make sure she's cleared if they try.
    Watney:"Venkat, tell the investigation committee they'll have to do their witch hunt without me. And when they inevitably blame Commander Lewis, be advised I'll publicly refute it."

    Lewis: I left him behind.
    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 Pathfinder's rover Sojourner 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.
    • Played for drama earlier, when Mindy Park calls Venkat Kapoor in after the Ares 3 site is first imaged. She points out the pop-tents, and Venkat assumes Lewis deployed them during the storm in case the Hab breached. Mindy points out Lewis never logged doing so, and she's not the type of person to fail to log something. She points out the clean solar cells, and Venkat notes a later windstorm could have cleared them off. Then Mindy notes she never found Mark's body. Oh, Crap! ensues.
    • When talking about his plans to find the RTG, a nuclear-powered generator Commander Lewis buried, which he plans on digging up and using for heat:
      Mark: I have two things working for me. First — I was assembling solar panels with Vogel when Commander Lewis drove off, and I saw she headed due south. Also, she planted a three-meter pole with a bright green flag over where she buried it.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • Mark swears all the time. And given the situation, wouldn't you?
    • Annie Montrose can't open her mouth without doing this. And she's the NASA communications director.
  • Cold Equation: When Hermes has committed to a trajectory that will take it back to Mars without knowing if NASA will be able to get them supplies for the return journey, there is a conversation about what will happen if the resupply fails. The crew decides among themselves that in that case, most of the crew will immediately commit suicide to increase the chances of the one remaining (Johannsen, because she's the smallest and uses fewer resources) surviving until the ship's trajectory carries it back to Earth. Fortunately for everybody, the resupply probe rendezvous happens without a hitch.
  • Command Roster:
    • Mr. Fixit: Mark Watney, before being stranded on Mars (technically, the lowest-ranked member of the crew).
    • The Captain: Commander Melissa Lewis. Also handles geologic science during the expedition.
    • 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.
  • Competence Porn: Big time. Mark's details on how he does it makes you feel like if you used your head and kept calm you could figure out how to survive practically anything.
  • 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 revolves 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 so it can meet a supply vehicle.
  • 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).
    • Watney does point out that he has a lot of morphine, and will use that if he ever hits the point that it looks like he'll starve to death. He even has a plan for the worst case scenario in the final launch of the stripped down MAV. In the event of a launch that doesn't crash or explode but misses the rendezvous with the Hermes, he'll turn off his oxygen and pass out. Pure nitrogen = suffocation without the godawful sensation of suffocation.
  • 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.
    • Many of the characters working at NASA and JPL qualify as well. Particularly Venkat Kapoor, who as Director of Mars Operations, finds himself uniquely positioned to snark at as many of the other NASA characters as possible. Part of Mindy Park's Character Development is her going from a shy junior technician to a full-fledged Snark Knight on par with any of the NASA leadership.
  • Description Cut: 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.
  • Desert Punk: Not in the traditional way, but definitely the most realistic possible take on the desert planet genre.
  • 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.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • You can't rush the construction of a Mars probe, skip the safety inspections, and expect a successful mission.
    • Just as much as you can't use canvas as the front of a launch vehicle and subject it to a force of 12g and expect a perfect launch.
  • 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 antenna 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 a sequence of these; due to skipped pre-launch checks, a fuel mixture imbalance causes a lateral vibration, the vibration and launch acceleration liquefies Soldier Fuel bars. The now liquid bars sloshed, magnifying the shimmy. This still didn't ruin things. . . until the second stage sent to still-liquid food slamming against one of the five bolts holding the probe in place. That bolt sheared, but the other four would have held, if not for one of them having a slight defect, which also would have been caught in inspection. The bolt failed, the rest followed, and Iris shook itself to death.
    • Similarly the airlock breach in the Hab. One tiny manufacturing defect that would have been totally meaningless in any other situation, (that is to say, the time at which the defect would have caused a failure long exceeded the expected timespan that the Hab was to be occupied) damn near kills Mark in multiple ways and wipes out his potatoes.
  • Disco Sucks: Mark, desperate for entertainment, is stuck with disco as his only music. When he regains contact with Earth, he begs them to send him new music in their next transmission. Their response is that there isn't enough bandwidth to do so. "Enjoy your boogie fever."
  • 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).
    • NASA knows that the second dust storm is coming long before Mark works it out. And with Pathfinder dead, they have no way to warn him. And even AFTER he realizes there's a storm, he has no way of knowing how big it is.
      Mark: There's like a hundred million people or so who know exactly how far south it goes. But I'm not one of them.
    • In a rare bit of Dramatic Irony not used for suspense, NASA believes Mark's "bedroom" is a workshop for field testing. It's actually just so he has somewhere to go that isn't the Rover, and to help with the Cabin Fever. He mostly just watches TV in there.
  • 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.
    • If duct tape alone can't solve a problem Mark has, then hab material just might. The expedition was provided with redundant hab material for patching potential leaks or repairing damage, and having a puncture-resistant air-tight carbon-fiber cloth comes in really handy for MacGyvering solutions.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Venkat's reaction to some of Mark's jokes. During their first text conversation, after he tells Mark their exchange is being seen live, Mark responds with an ASCII pair of breasts. And later...
    Venkat: You're cleared to start drilling.
    Mark: That's what she said.
    Venkat: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Mark survives. Beck does not have to sacrifice himself, as he was ready to do.
  • Enhance Button: Venkat wants better images of Mark than the ones they are getting from the satellites. It appears that while NSA did apparently enhance the images,note  Mark is still just a few dots.
  • Enmity with an Object: By the end of the novel Mark has been eating almost nothing but potatoes, and he hates them with a fiery passion. He also has no sentimental feelings for the entire planet of Mars itself, despite it being his home for over a year. The first thing he does when he regains consciousness after reaching Mars' orbit is to yell "FUCK YOU" at the planet.
  • 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 Can See It: Watney writes a letter to Beck, in which he advises Beck to tell Johanssen how he feels about her. When it's revealed that Beck and Johanssen had hooked up during the return trip the rest of the crew aren't remotely surprised.
  • 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" after running out of both instant coffee and caffeine pills. (He tried steeping potato skins, but it turned out that plain hot water 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.
  • Expospeak Gag: NASA apparently gave complicated names to simple boxes and sacks (like "geological sample container"). There is a logical reason (they have to account for every last gram of weight, and specific designations prevent mix-ups in situations where every second counts), but that doesn't stop Mark making fun of them.
    • It gets even better. There's things like "large rigid sample container" (plastic box), and "medium flexible sample container" (Ziploc bag).
  • 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 an MAV.
  • Fandom Rivalry: In-Universe example; when Jack and his team inform Venkat that they're able to establish two-way communication with Watney, Venkat promises, "I'm going to buy all of you autographed Star Trek memorabilia." Jack answers, "I prefer Star Wars. Original trilogy, of course."
    • Meta example; in an interview for which is included in some print and e-book editions of the novel, Andy Weir was asked, "Star Trek or Star Wars?" He answered, "Doctor Who."
  • 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.
  • 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 series 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • While travelling to the Ares 4 site, Mark uses the pop tent as a bedroom. NASA has no idea what he uses it for, so they speculate that it’s a workshop. Averted in that while he does contemplate using it as a workshop during the MAV refitting, he ultimately decides against it because it would be too much hassle.
    • Played straight when short segments begin to appear describing the process of manufacturing a section of Hab canvas in detail. Readers familiar with The Law of Conservation of Detail wouldn't have much difficulty guessing that a critical failure is imminent.
    • At the beginning of the book, Watney burns rocket fuel in order to make water. At the end of the book, he needs to do the reverse, electrolyzing his urine and all his spare water to make hydrogen for the Ares 4 MAV to convert into rocket fuel.
    • Partway through his journey to the Ares 4 site, Watney comments on how his solar panels aren't giving him a full charge anymore. This is his first step toward figuring out what NASA and the readers already know: that he's headed straight into a massive dust storm.
  • 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 having to eat her crew-mates to survive. Martinez cheerfully asks her which of them she would have eaten first. Then claims he would have been the tastiest.
    Martinez: I'm free range you know. Corn fed! Come on! I thought you liked Mexican!
    Johanssen: Not listening!
  • Genre Savvy: When supplying for his journey to the Ares IV landing site, Mark sets aside an MRE pack for "Survived Something that Should've Killed Me" because he does that a lot over the course of the book.
  • Genius Thriller: The premise is that Mark has to survive on Mars with nothing but his intelligence and supplies intended to last 31 sols.
  • 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 an awesome name for a Bond movie (wherein Mark himself would play Q because he's a Science Hero rather than an action one).
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Referenced by Mark. After several months with no direct human contact, Mark claims 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.'".
  • 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.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: When Mark realizes that his hydrogen-burning setup isn't fully working as intended.
    Mark: Damn it, Jim, I'm a botanist, not a chemist!
  • 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; Mark's limited supplies are a major source of tension throughout the book, though the rate at which he runs through them 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.
  • Ironic Echo 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."
  • 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.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: When Watney wonders why Mission Control hasn't responded after he accidentally fries Pathfinder.
  • 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 when 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 (which is beside it) has the same problem. So Lewis declares that Martinez will sleep in Beck's room, while Beck will sleep with Johannsen. Which they had been already, and Lewis knew it.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail:
    • A violation 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.
    • Also when discussing the journey of one particular section of Hab canvas from manufacturing to Mars. So much attention is paid to the manufacturing and inspection procedures, you just know something is about to go catastrophically awry.
  • 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", meanwhile, 'Martinez' roughly means "Son of Martin", with "Martin" itself being derived from "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.
    • "Iris", the name of the resupply probe meant to keep Mark alive until the Ares IV crew could arrive, was named for another messenger to the Olympian gods.
    • Mark half-jokingly names his rover test missions "Sirius." Because 'rover' = 'dogs'.
  • 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 context, 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.
  • 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.
  • Mundane Dogmatic: The Martian attempts to use a contemporary understanding of how a mission to Mars would work. Hence, interplanetary travel (whether or not carrying people) is time-consuming and expensive, there is no instantaneous communication, space adheres to known physics principles, and Mars is a hostile environment to humans and plantlife. Avoided here are aliens, teleportation, or other softer sci-fi elements.
  • 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 obsessive. This contrasts with the massive amounts of messy improvisation Mark and the rest of NASA engages in to make the eventual rescue work.
  • The Needs of the Many: Teddy's reasoning for many of his decisions center on this, either focusing on the continuing survival of NASA or the Ares 3 crew. In particular, when he needs to choose between a likely-to-fail resupply mission (which could lead to the death of one astronaut) or a less-likely-to-fail rescue mission (which could lead to the death of six astronauts).
    • Inverted in particular by the Ares 3 crew, who would risk anything to save their crewmate... which is why Teddy tries to keep them Locked Out of the Loop for much of the plot.
  • 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?"
    • When Johannsen is talking to her father, he mentions that she spent her teenage years around "nerdy guys too scared to try anything."
  • No Antagonist: Just Mars, repeatedly, and it's not malicious. Teddy drags his feet a bit on things, but isn't a bad guy. His decision to try and send a second resupply package after the first one failed is thought of as cowardice by a few characters, but from his point of view, the entire Hermes crew are his responsibility: if anything goes wrong with them returning to get Watney, they could all die, instead of possibly just him.
  • 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.
    • A healthy dose of added irony there: his first priority is turning leftover rocket fuel into water. At the end, he has to turn leftover water into rocket fuel. And NASA tersely instructs him to stop discarding his piss.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: All of the positions at NASA are filled by fictional people.
  • 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. The only author mentioned in the crew's collection of reading material is Agatha Christie. No mention is made of the names of celebrities or pop culture of the future.
  • Noodle Incident: Mark mentions he tried to spice up his Nothin' Tea (AKA hot water) by adding potato peels to it once. The only information we get as to how that tasted is Mark remarking that the less said about that attempt, the better.
  • No One Could Survive That!: The crew abandons Watney on Mars after getting every indication that he died in the storm and they would too if they waited to find his body.
  • No One Gets Left Behind:
    • The mission rules averted this: the body of anyone who died on Mars was to remain there. Knowing this, and understanding the reasoning behind it, Watney isn't bitter that the others abandoned his apparently dead body.
    • Beck argues that despite Lewis's orders, they shouldn't launch from Mars without her. Martinez would do it if he had to, but he buys enough time for Lewis to reach them (at the cost of most of the reserve fuel).
    • Then, after finding out that Mark is alive, the Ares 3 crew 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.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Thoroughly inverted by NASA, as is par for the course. Their redundancies have redundancies, while they eliminate everything that doesn't serve two purposes with no extra weight. That's why Watney could survive: he's a botanist and a mechanical engineer. They also had a commander/geologist, doctor/EVA specialist, chemist/navigator... Watney himself plays this painfully straight, and justifies it, because he has no choice but to make it up as he goes along and has absolutely nothing to spare if something goes wrong. Played for Laughs as the two styles come into conflict (Watney gracefully backs most cases, because he recognizes that he'll never out-perform dozens of geniuses working together).
    • There is however one problem with a set of redundancies. There are multiple backup communications devices in case the one connected to the Hab breaks down, but they're all on the MAV, which means that after the storm wrecks the Hab communications gear and the rest of the Ares 3 crew leaves on the MAV, Mark has no way of calling home. The NASA ground crew concede that they hadn't thought of that possibility.
  • 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!, listing every single thing that will potentially kill him and concluding that even if none of those get him he'll eventually starve to death. However, by the second log entry he's calmed down and is already brainstorming how 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 realizes what happened.
    • Mindy gets one in when she deduces from the satellite imagery that Mark is still alive.
    • NASA when they realize that Mark Watney will drive into a dust storm that can (indirectly) kill him, without any means to warn or even track him. And then Mark when he eventually figures out by himself he is in a dust storm and needs to figure out which way to go to get around it, fast.
    • When the Hermes crew decide to blow an airlock and vent the atmosphere to help slow the ship down enough to pick up Watney, all of the NASA characters on Earth go into a Mass "Oh, Crap!", with Venkat dropping a Cluster F-Bomb and Annie bolting for the press room because she realizes the reporters are going to go ballistic.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Dr. Venkat Kapoor is Hindu and likes to cover all his bases.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Averted. The crew of the Ares 3 has 6 scientists of different disciplines to cover all of the studies that would have been performed on Mars. Mark is the team's botanist and mechanical engineer, and while he has enough general scientific knowledge to get by, he does have a few gaps. Most notably, not being a chemist, he almost blows himself up trying to convert rocket fuel to water the first time.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten:
    • After watching the media on USB drives the crew left behind on Mars, Mark Watney concludes that Commander Lewis has a '70s problem. To be fair, Lewis's conversation with her husband in the chapter where the Hermes crew catch up with the families back on Earth suggests that Mark is 100% correct.
    • Mark never lets us forget that this specific drill murdered Pathfinder.
  • 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, marvelling 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.
  • Poirot Speak: Vogel does this with German (mostly ja). Lampshaded in the flashback scene:
    Watney: Vogel, your usual sausages?
    Vogel: Ja, please.
    Watney: You know you're a stereotype, right?
  • The Radio Dies First: The initial storm takes out the Hab's entire communications array, and all three backup systems are inaccessible, since they were on the MAV that took his fellow astronauts back to the Hermes. Watney spends a few days looking for the detached satellite dish in the hope that he might be able to fix it, but ultimately writes the whole thing off as beyond repair. Justified, since as he points out, communicating between Mars and Earth is tricky business that requires highly specialized equipment. As resourceful as he is, Watney simply isn't capable of repairing the communications array with the supplies he has on hand.
    • In fact, the radio dying is what directly causes Watney's situation, as he is struck by the flying remains of a radio antenna, causing him to lose consciousness and his suit's telemetry rig to be destroyed, making it appear to his teammates as if he'd died.
  • 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."
  • Red Herring:
    • Several ambitious plans are presented and later discarded because they are not needed, or owing 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 use it to commit suicide than starve to death. He's never even in enough pain to require a normal dose of morphine, and the other times his mood gets low he contemplates different ways to go out on his own terms.
  • 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 end up hooking up throughout their long flight.
  • Remote Vitals Monitoring: Mark's vitals flatlined, which led the rest of the crew to assume he was dead. In fact, his sensors were destroyed by a piece of debris.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Mark's survival goes undiscovered for two months because NASA leaders decided not to look at the Ares 3 base. Any pictures they took would be released to the press, and they don't want to publish pictures of a dead astronaut. By the time they do take pictures, Watney has moved things around enough that it's obvious someone's still alive down there.
  • 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 terrifyingly large 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.
    • During one press briefing about the Iris resupply probe, it is mentioned that the supplies aboard include a flash drive filled with new entertainment material for Mark. One reporter asks for confirmation that it isn't more disco.
    • 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. The expected happens when they have to take one chance too many, and the probe launch ends with tiny defects that would have been caught and brought up to standard if they hadn't been so badly pressed for time combining into a chain of Disaster Dominoes. Among other things, they didn't have time to check what would happen when you subject a crate full of Soldier Fuel bars to launch acceleration. Turns out it turns into something kind of like Oobleck, which proceeds to shake the rocket to pieces. Oops.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Mark maintains a pretty constant one with his logbook. One constant in the book is that Commander Lewis didn't just have a huge collection of '70s Disco music; she had an equally huge collection of '70s television shows, which inspire Mark to fill his log entries with Fridge Logic:
    It’s clear that General Lee can outrun a police cruiser. Why doesn’t Rosco just go to the Duke farm and arrest them when they’re not in the car?

    I just watched an episode where Steve Austin fights a Russian Venus probe that landed on Earth by mistake. As an expert in interplanetary travel, I can tell you there are no scientific inaccuracies in the story. It’s quite common for probes to land on the wrong planet. Also, the probe’s large, flat-panel hull is ideal for the high-pressure Venusian atmosphere. And, as we all know, probes often refuse to obey directives, choosing instead to attack humans on sight.
  • Shipper on Deck: Watney, for Beck and Johannsen.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several to Apollo 13. Notably, that the real-life incident led to NASA standardizing equipment anywhere they could, making Mark's struggle to survive a lot easier (his spacesuit uses the same CO2 filters as the rovers, all valves, piping, tubing, etc are the same for all parts, and so on).note 
    • Also several times to MacGyver. Once as a Lampshade Hanging in an early scene:
    Communicating from Mars to Earth is a pretty big deal, and requires extremely specialized equipment. I won't be able to whip something up with tinfoil and gum. note 
  • 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.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The Mission Control guys drop some "hell" phrases during their protocol speech when the Ares crew commit their mutiny.
  • 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 later the crew must vent most of its atmosphere out through the front hatch via explosive decompression to slow down enough that they can grab Watney when he passes by in the MAV.
  • Space Isolation Horror: This story might take place on the surface of Mars rather than in space per se, but it still has all the trappings of this trope. Watney is marooned Robinsonade-style on a barren planet without a breathable atmosphere, one sufficiently serious equipment failure from dying in a variety of unpleasant ways and with a very limited supply of food and other consumables. A rescue mission would take many, many months to reach him even if the rest of his crew and Mission Control didn't think he was dead, and the outpost's communications were irreparably trashed during the same accident that got him into this mess so he can't send a distress call. Oh, and did we mention the fact that he has nobody to talk to but his diary?
  • Space Pirates: With lots of time on his hands, Mark realizes that when he boards the Ares 4 craft, under an extremely 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. The author wrote a computer programme to confirm that the slingshot orbits were realistic.
  • 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.
    Watney: I did, however, glue my hand to the helmet.
    Watney: Stop laughing.
  • 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.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Even when Mark is caught in some truly dire situations, he can't seem to stop pontificating about his feelings and problem-solving processes (e.g. when the hab explodes and he's trapped in the airlock with a shattered faceplate) when he should be, y'know, scrambling to stay alive. When his rover tips over near the end of the book, he actually types his thoughts out.
  • 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.
  • Tears of Joy: When contact with NASA allows Mark to receive a letter from his parents, he sits down and weeps.
  • That's an Order!: Lewis and Martinez are both military. When Lewis tells Martinez to leave Mars without her if necessary, she deliberately uses the word "order"— and when Beck tells Martinez not to do it, he replies that if he runs out of options, he will follow the commander's orders.
  • 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 (bonus points in that when the book was made into a movie, it does play out the way he thought it would).
  • Those Two Guys: Chuck and Morris, two communications engineers who appear in exactly one scene to explain to Venkat the impossibility of communicating to Watney without the broken communication antenna. They also nearly drive Venkat up the wall with their constant bickering over the most mundane scientific minutiae.
  • 20 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 and ends on May 24, 2037.
    • 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 continued to do so until July 2018), 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 45 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.
    • When his caffeine pills run out, he tries making potato peel tea. But only once.
  • 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.
  • What Would X Do?: Mark has an epiphany in his final days on Mars;
    I need some encouragement. I need to ask myself, “What would an Apollo astronaut do?”
    He’d drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Invoked in one of Watney's logs.
    "I can't wait until I have grandchildren. 'When I was young, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!'"
  • White-and-Grey 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-averse 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.
  • Your Mom: When Venkat informs Watney that there will be an investigation of the circumstances that led to him being stranded on Mars, Watney sends this reply:
    Venkat, tell the investigation committee they’ll have to do their witch hunt without me. And when they inevitably blame Commander Lewis, be advised I’ll publicly refute it. I’m sure the rest of the crew will do the same.
    Also, please tell them that each and every one of their mothers is a prostitute. —Watney
    PS: Their sisters, too.

"From the Files of Mark Watney" contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alleged Car: "Car Trouble" has Watney marooned in the middle of the desert when his car breaks down in western Texas. Also, he forgot his phone charger, forcing him to jury-rig a solution using his car's wiring. He looks forward to not needing to do that sort of thing while he travels to Mars with the best-engineered equipment made by mankind.
  • And the Adventure Continues: In "The Earthling", Watney learns that Commander Lewis, now permanently grounded by NASA after stealing the Hermes to rescue him, has decided to get a job in private sector space travel. And she wants him to join her.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In "Diary of an AssCan", Watney laments that he'll only get to spend a month on Mars, and after a training assignment that required the crew to spend two days in a space capsule together, hopes to never have to spend so much time with them like that again.
  • Berserk Button: In "The Earthling" Watney ends up going off on a pushy waiter who won't take a hint that he doesn't want french fries (potatoes) with his burger.
  • Dramatic Irony: "Diary of an AssCan", "I Made It", and "Car Trouble" all have this in spades, being prequel stories.
  • Epilogue Letter: "The Earthling" has Watney starting a journal where he will document his struggles living on Earth, at the suggestion of his therapist.
  • Insistent Terminology: As Lewis points out, she didn't get grounded by NASA for mutiny. She was grounded for barratry, as mutiny refers specifically to the actions of the crew defying the ship's officers, while barratry is the ship's officers defying their masters.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Lewis has been reassigned to a desk job by NASA, more-or-less permanently grounded as punishment for her seizing Hermes to rescue Watney against NASA's orders.
  • Stranger In A Strange Land: Watney struggles to adjust to life back on Earth due to a mix of prolonged social isolation, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, health complications from his long time on Mars, and a deep hatred of potatoes.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: "The Earthling" offers a slightly different version than the film for the Ares 3 crew:
    • Watney is retired from space travel, and is undergoing both psychological therapy for his PTSD and being treated for physiological complications from his long stay on Mars. He hates potatoes.
    • Vogel decided he'd had quite enough of space travel after their extended voyage, and has retired to teach chemistry in Bremen.
    • Beck and Johanssen now live together, sharing a house just outside of Houston.
    • Martinez is getting ready to have another kid, and games online with Watney.
    • Lewis is permanently grounded by NASA after her stunt stealing the Hermes to rescue Watney, but has lined up a new job...