“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
Weir makes sure that, although the scientific reality of the book is empirically provable, Watney's attitude and explanations never alienate the reader. This is clear both in the physics, chemistry, and math Watney is able to compute on the fly, and in the physical applications of duct tape. Some solutions Watney must develop in space require enormous leaps of creative induction—they're the kind of things one might not be able to think up oneself. But other times, these solutions are as straightforward as they would be on Earth. This is a moment of levity in the book, when Watney is able to communicate directly with the reader, and show that life on Mars isn't always quite so distant as it seems.
“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
This is another instance of levity in the text. Although everyone on Earth is worried about Watney, he never takes much time to despair over his circumstances. Instead, although he doesn't exactly "enjoy" Commander Lewis's collection of 1970s media, he knows it's a great way to distract himself from the difficulties of his Martian life. This shift from NASA's to Watney's perspective is also a wonderful demonstration of narrative parallelism in the text. When people on Earth fret about their comrade, Watney, millions of miles away, is trying to understand the fictional universe of Aquaman, a comic book hero.
“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.”
Watney never loses heart in NASA's—and, indeed all of Earth's—capacity to help him throughout his mission and its aftermath. And Earth really does come together to help him. Watney chooses to see this as an example of humans' inherent goodness and sociability. Of course, Watney also knows that people can be self-interested and motivated by less than ideal desires—but throughout his time on Mars, Earth has risen to the challenge of helping him, and for this Watney is supremely grateful.
“Me: “This is obviously a clog. How about I take it apart and check the internal tubing?” NASA: (after five hours of deliberation) “No. You’ll fuck it up and die.” So I took it apart.”
Although Watney knows that NASA wants to help him, he's also headstrong, and mostly convinced that his solutions are the best for a given situation. This intuition of Mark's is borne out by substantial evidence, for he has managed to survive many months on Mars, primarily without NASA's help. But Watney must also learn to accept some of NASA's advice, since a team of gifted scientists and engineers are devoting all their waking time, on Earth, to making sure he comes home alive.
“Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated), if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won't stay inside anymore.”
Watney speaks directly into the Hab's videolog, producing an intimate, conversational relationship with the reader. Often, it can feel that Watney is speaking directly to the person holding a copy of The Martian. This is especially true in this quotation, in which Watney again uses humor to underscore an otherwise terrifying situation, as he attempts to modify the Hab to insure his continued survival.
“Everything went great right up to the explosion.”
Watney (and Weir, the author) have a powerful sense of dramatic timing, which each uses to pace the narrative as its progresses. Here, Watney refers to an explosion "proleptically," or right before it happens, as a way of maintaining the reader's interest. From chapter to chapter, section to section, the book moves forward with a keen awareness of how to maintain readerly interest—and this quotation embodies how simple and persuasive this process can be.
"Watney, obviously we're very happy to hear you survived. As the person responsible for your situation, I wish there was more I could do to directly help."
Lewis experiences a good deal of guilt over leaving Watney behind on Mars, even though she ordered this to protect the crew (and because she believed Watney was already dead). Throughout the novel, Lewis seems dissatisfied with the fact that the Hermes must continue back to Earth, especially after she and her fellow crewmembers learn that Watney is, in fact, still alive. Thus this section foreshadows what will eventually become the Purnell Maneuver, which allows the Hermes to slingshot back to Mars, pick up Watney, then return to Earth as a full crew.
"Just tell Mom the supplies would last, okay?"
Talking to her father, Johanssen changes the mood of the novel, briefly, from fun, adventurous, and light-hearted to macabre. Johanssen acknowledges that NASA's contingency plans are substantial, and would include even the most horrific of scenarios, in which Johanssen would need to eat the remains of her fellow crewmembers in order to pilot the Hermes back to Earth. This would be necessary, as Johanssen elaborates, because the Hermes is an enormously expensive spacecraft, and NASA needs to protect its investment however it can.
"He'll pull through, Commander. Have faith ... I'm not talking about faith in God, I'm talking about faith in Mark Watney. Look at all the shit Mars has thrown at him, and he's still alive."
Another important motif in the novel is faith, in its many forms. Of course, Watney needs to possess the most elemental kind of of faith: faith in himself, in his ability to find a way home, despite overwhelming odds against him. This faith, as Martinez describes it, doesn't involve belief in a supernatural power or Godhead. Instead, it's simply the faith in one person's cleverness, ingenuity, and patience. Lewis is perhaps less inclined to accept the idea of religious faith, in the text, but she's more than willing to believe in Watney, an astronaut who's demonstrated a powerful combination of persistence and confidence.
"There will be Hab canvas covering the holes. It will provide enough aerodynamics in Mars's atmosphere."
Occasionally, however, there are moments when the physics of the novel seem to strain the credulity of the reader. This is one of those rare instances; it is, of course, hard to imagine a piece of canvas strong enough, and fastened well enough, to withstand a launch into outer space. But Weir posits that such a canvas could be invented in the near future, thus allowing Watney to make his rendezvous with Hermes. These instances are infrequent enough in the novel that the reader is perhaps all the more willing to accept them when they do crop up.
The Martian Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Martian is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.