The Martian

The Martian Study Guide

Andy Weir self-published The Martian as an e-book in 2011. An example of "hard sf," in which factual speculation is minimized, The Martian includes scientific descriptions of space-flight, rocketry, thermodynamics, biology, and other phenomena.

The novel’s plot is straightforward and set in the near future. During Ares 3, the third US manned mission to Mars, the crew is caught in a severe dust-storm. While the team prepares to evacuate the planet, astronaut Mark Watney is hit with debris, leaving his communication systems down. The team believes him to be dead and leaves the planet without him. The story is told from two perspectives: via Mark's video/text journal, kept on Mars, and via third-person-narrated scenes on the Earth's surface, set mostly at NASA. Watney describes his efforts to survive on Mars, which include refitting the Hab, his living space, and setting up a small-scale farming operation.

The novel's themes include isolation, risk, and humans' instinct for survival. One can also read Mark Watney's isolation on a hostile planet allegorically, as a spiritual journey into the unknown, where a human being is rescued through his own efforts and at a substantial cost to others. Many critics have noted that the novel resembles, in structure and content, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719).

The Martian has little fantasy content; Weir has argued that the technologies in the book are feasible in theory, if not always available today in practice. Unlike many authors, Andy Weir did not invent fictional technological advances to explain how travel to Mars was possible. Instead, he relied on established scientific facts, for everything from distance-related communication delays to the behavior of liquid crystal displays in a thin atmosphere. The book does not assume an extensive scientific knowledge on the part of the viewer, but contains technical information on subjects from physics to nutrition. There is also an emphasis on the psychology and sociology of human beings in isolation, and historically-accurate information about actual NASA missions, including the Pathfinder probe (1996-7).