The Martian

The Martian Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How are the characters of Guo Ming and Teddy Sanders similar? How are they different? Compare and contrast the two characters.

    Both Guo Ming and Teddy Sanders are in charge of their nation’s respective space programs. Guo Ming is the Director of the China National Space Administration; Teddy Sanders is in charge of NASA. Both men interact with representatives of their nation’s government, and represent their nation’s space program. They are both extremely intelligent and politically savvy.

    Unlike Teddy Sanders, Guo Ming is well respected by his subordinates and is also a risk taker. He is trusted. When Zhu Tao comes to him with the idea of using the secret Taiyang Shen rocket booster to launch a resupply mission after NASA’s probe is destroyed in an unsuccessful launch, Guo Ming immediately recognizes the opportunity to advance China’s scientific and political interests by publicly rescuing the American mission. To make sure that the China National Space Administration receives appropriate benefits for the sacrifice it is about to make in giving up the Taiyang Shen booster rocket, Guo Ming takes an enormous risk. He contacts NASA directly instead of going through official government channels. By doing this, he risks losing his job or even his life if his actions are interpreted by his government as traitorous.

    Teddy Sanders earns the contempt of his subordinates, who mistrust him due to his habit of manipulating people by concealing information from them. Sanders is the person who denies all requests for Mars satellite imagery to avoid the negative publicity of having people see Mark Watney’s body, and it is this act that keeps people from realizing Watney is alive. He keeps Mark Watney’s survival a secret from the Hermes crew, and he vetoes the Rich Purnell course change that has a much higher probability of rescuing Mark Watney because it is too risky to the Hermes crew. His lack of willingness to take risks causes his subordinates to label him as a coward.

  2. 2

    How are women depicted in The Martian? Are they presented in a positive or a negative way?

    Women in The Martian are presented in a positive way, but not an artificial way. They make up a substantial number of the characters in the book, and these characters tend to be well rounded and believable. Three examples of well-rounded characters are Commander Lewis, Annie Montrose, and Mindy Park.

    Commander Lewis is in charge of the Ares 3 mission. She is well respected by her subordinates, and genuinely cares about them. Although she blames herself for leaving Mark Watney behind during the evacuation, ordering the evacuation was the right and necessary thing to do. She displays a few foibles such as a fondness for 1970s music and television.

    Annie Montrose is an executive in charge of NASA’s media relations. She appears to have the respect of her peers. The decisions she makes are in line with what the reader wants to happen on Mark Watney’s behalf.

    Mindy Park is a character who suffers from self-doubt and lack of confidence at the start of the book, however, she is a skilled analyst who is the first person to notice Mark Watney is alive. Over the course of the book, she gains confidence in her professional abilities.

  3. 3

    How are scientists and engineers presented in The Martian? Does the storyline make use of any stereotypes?

    The novel does recapitulate some cultural stereotypes of scientists—that they have difficulty rendering analysis in humane language, for example. But the novel also shows a number of different ways to be a scientist and do science. Watney loves science and puts it into practice daily on Mars; for him, science is a way of interacting with the world, not just a subject learned in school. NASA scientists also think creatively and solve problems on the fly—important parts of the scientific method that are often ignored in caricatured depictions of scientists in literature.

  4. 4

    In what sense is the novel "science fiction," and in what sense is it an adventure story? How does genre affect the way the novel can be read?

    The novel very clearly takes up a number of tropes related to science fiction: it takes place in the future, places a heavy emphasis on realistic science, and occurs in outer space. But the novel also carries on a framework of adventure and exploration story that has its roots in the 17th century and the very beginning of novelistic fiction in English. The notion, too, of Watney as "a man apart," who must re-create a world on his own, derives as much from Defoe's Robinson Crusoe as it does from the tradition of science fiction (which is in many ways instantiated by Jules Verne, in French, in the 19th century). It is important to note, too, that Watney's plotline is distinctly "adventure"-focused—and that he does not have a romantic partner waiting for him back on Earth. Others in the Hermes crew do, but in general, the romantic possibilities of the adventure story are sidelined, in The Martian, in exchange for scientific suspense.

  5. 5

    Why does the novel end where it does? Would it be possible to follow Watney's adventures on Earth after the rescue?

    Some adventure stories continue after the great escape episode has concluded, to show how the hero/heroine adjust to life back in their normal social context/milieu. But Weir makes the decision to end the novel with Watney among his crewmembers on the Hermes. This leaves up to the reader's imagination what the re-entry to life on Earth might be like. But it also underscores just how much Watney is realized, as a character, by his struggles in space. Very little of his life back on Earth is described (in essence, only his educational background and his love of the Cubs baseball team). Watney's personal life is left relatively open—it's what he does on Mars that is most important for Weir. The novel's abrupt ending also allows the reader to savor Watney's glee at being once again among his friends and crew.