Alexander Winn and Lacey Hannan discuss the first three chapters of Andy Weir’s The Martian, in which we learn how Matt Damon… err, Mark Watney’s butt worked as hard as his brain (hint: P O O P P O T A T O E S).
𝕋𝕙𝕖 𝕊𝕪𝕟𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕤𝕚𝕤 is a live talk show that aims to find the relationship between science and fiction in pop culture. We’ll discuss a book, movie, or show each week that’s science-focused and talk about just how realistic it is, where reality is cooler than fiction, and exactly where certain liberties were taken.
Hey, folks, this is Alexander Winn and.
We’re off to a good start, and we. You want me to take.
Hi, folks, this is Alexander Winn and Lacey here, and we’re here to talk to you about the first three chapters of The Martian today. All right, so I would never I would never do well on SNL, I would I would break constantly. Yeah. Oh, my God. Sorry. It’s just like it’s on you and Lacey just cracks. I’m sorry.
Hey, listen, there were things happening I about.
All right. So for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about Apollo 13 and gravity. We sort of accidentally fell into a space disaster series. My favorite. Yep. So why not keep it going? This week, we’re going to be talking about The Martian, the first three chapters. We’re going to be taking it week by week and working our way through the book because this book is dense.
It’s awesome. But there’s a lot going on. There is a lot going on. And I like it for the for that reason. It’s a matter of fact, I’ve been looking forward to doing The Martian because The Martian is fantastic. So while Lacy finds her chill, I’m going to give some background.
Listen, at least I’m obviously the fun one here.
So The Martian was written by Andy Weir. It is the novel on which the movie is based. Of course, he started writing it in 2009. And where is the son of a particle physicist and an electrical engineer? Oh, well, no wonder. Yeah, exactly. If I had parents that smart, I’d be smarter, too. He had a background in computer science. He began writing and in 2009, just for fun to sort of see how this would go.
Apparently I didn’t know this until today, but apparently he had already had a webcomic called Casey and Andy, which had this same premise being stranded on Mars.
I take it Andy is him and Casey is I have no idea.
This is right off of Wikipedia.
He did he did some well researched work for you guys four minutes before we went on on the area.
So one thing that I really love about this story is the response that he had to this series. He started publishing it as a blog and people started finding it in particular, people in the space science community started finding it and they started feeding him information. He would present a problem in one chapter and then he’d start getting emails from people who, like, literally work at NASA, being like, here’s how we would approach that problem. And it became this whole thing. So apparently he had been burned by literary agents before, so he just didn’t even bother trying to get this thing published. So he just started putting it out online and people asked him to
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make a Kindle version so that they could read it on their Kindle. You know, that’s nice. But apparently, you know, he wasn’t in it for the money. He just wanted these people to be able to read what he was reading in the most convenient format. But on Kindle, you have to have cost at least 99 cents. So he put it up for 99 cents and it shot to the top of Amazon’s sci fi bestsellers, just like this little convenience thing that he did for his for his fans, he ended up selling the rights to a genuine publisher. It debuted on The New York Times best seller list in both hardcover and paperback versions. There’s a there was an audio book version by someone named RC Bray, but then it was rereleased narrated by Wil Wheaton. And for those who don’t know, Wil Wheaton is super famous in the nerd community. He played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek The Next Generation and now is like a super guru in all things like tabletop gaming and nerd communities. Huge on YouTube and Twitter.
I would be interested why they would do the hard back in the paper back at the same time.
Oh, they didn’t. I just miss it. Now, on when it came out in hardback, it debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. And then when it came out in paperback, it also debuted on the New York Times book. I was very confused. Yeah, OK. And then the last a little bit of background that I have here is on December 5th, 2014, the cover page for the script of The Martian was launched into space on an Orion spacecraft because that’s just cool.
Is it? Yeah.
Ok, so for those of you who have been living under a rock or haven’t read the book or watched the movie, The Martian is the story of an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after his whole crew thinks that he died and they blast off an emergency. Yes.
Reasonably think that he has died and they blast off to save themselves in an emergency situation. They leave him behind. And now he’s presented with how do I survive on Mars alone for what he expects is going to be four years until the next Mars mission arrives. And, yeah, it’s just fantastic.
Ok, can I start with the intro? Go for it. OK, you guys, my favorite part. Not my favorite part. There’s going to be so much more about this that I love, of course. But the very it’s like one of the very best interest to a book ever.
The first couple of lines, I’m going to read them to you. If you have children nearby, cover their ears. This has swearwords.
I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my. Considered opinion fucked.
It’s just the best line, it’s just the best. Like what? Oh, like it just it just captures your attention. Yeah, it’s funny. And I love it. And I, I, I love the humor of this book.
I think that’s one of my favorite things. In the first page you just get so you get so much insight to who this guy like, what this guy’s character is and and his sense of humor, which is super dry. And I love it really.
It’s like the two most important aspects of the book are included in the first line, which is impending doom and humor. Like this is a guy who’s going to be presented with a situation where he’s probably going to die, but he’s going to do it in an upbeat, funny way.
Well, and there’s a third thing. Yeah. His considered opinion. Yeah. This is a scientist who is smart to heck he’s doing. And he has considered this.
Yeah. He’s not panicking. He’s assess the situation. He’s fucked. And it’s funny.
Yeah. Welcome to The Martian. And then you get like a quarter of the way through that first page and you already have so much information. The exposition is phenomenally done. Yes. They don’t. He doesn’t nothing is overwrought. He explains what’s happening. He explains it concisely. But you don’t feel like, you know, you get some of those movies that you’re just like, oh, this is oh, like Gravity where the beginning of it. It’s just like the exposition is so stupid. We’re here because of your experiment, which I know nothing about. Will you please explain the whole thing to me? Like, that’s not what this is. Yeah, that’s what gravity was.
It is helped along by the fact one of the smartest decisions that were made is that it is a it’s not just a first person dialogue. It’s it’s really it’s almost a second person dialogue or second person narrative. He’s telling you this. This is a this is the story of someone writing a journal. Basically, we are reading his logs. And so it’s not a third person narrative where omniscient God is telling us this and
it’s not even a first person narrative. We’re we’re experiencing things as he experiences them. He’s laying it out in his log. And therefore, the whole thing is sort of given a license to be expositional because he’s describing a situation and it still doesn’t feel overly expositional.
Yeah, like crazy. And I so. OK, going back to the sense of humor. Yeah, he has this line where he’s talking about, you know, if he were in command and and he talks about how he’s lowest on the totem pole. He is the last one in line. If everyone else were dead and he was the last one alive, he would be in command. And then he says, what do you know? I’m in command. And and it’s just it’s just a little wicked, which I think is so great anyway. So there’s that. Yes.
And just really like I’m sure we’re going to be coming back to this over and over both tonight and for the rest of the time that we do The Martian, which is he’s just so much fun. The character is fun. And that is like I’m sure that other writers would have approached this and tried to make it dire and grim and like kind of hopeless and really trying to raise the we’ve seen that so many times. We’ve seen it so many times. And at a certain point it starts to strain credulity because you know what? You are fucked, man. You’re stranded on Mars. Nobody’s coming. You don’t have any food. You’re going to die. Why is he not just taking the Vicodin that he specifically mentions he had or morphine that he specifically mentions he has and just ending it quickly because he’s an upbeat guy? Yeah, he’s an optimist. Yeah, exactly. He is. We have established that this is the kind of guy who doesn’t get depressed easily, who approaches situations logically, who tries to work through and who believes that he can pull it off. And that’s what keeps the whole story afloat.
So we have not gotten very far in this chapter like at all.
So moving along, one of the things that I really, really like and I’m going to probably hit this multiple times throughout talking about Chapter one, which is he says it wasn’t your fault. He doesn’t it wasn’t your fault. Note to the crew just in case they ever get to read it or hear about it. And it puts the audience in his pocket because. We love it when people are funny and gracious, even when their circumstances directly argue against them being funny and gracious and forgiving and forgiving. Yeah, and he he lays out exactly why the crew would think he’s dead. And he would he says he would have thought the exact same thing and so would we like he makes a good case.
Clearly, anybody reading this who thinks I wouldn’t have assumed he was dead is kidding themselves.
Yes. Yes. And so the nice thing is, is now we as the audience don’t have to think about it again. We just get to go, OK, this is a good guy. He’s not going to be bitter the entire time. And we don’t have to concern ourselves with his feelings about being left behind. And we have to concern ourselves with his survival.
And we also don’t carry a burden of blame through the whole thing. You know, we aren’t going to get there in these three chapters, but we do eventually meet the rest of his crew and we don’t hate them. You know, like this is, if anything, we feel bad for them because they are the victims of circumstance that, you know, we know they feel terrible about this and it’s totally understandable that they did it. So it really sets everybody up to be a hero.
I like how he he talks about they had four months on the Hermès and how much fun it could have been. And he says, you know, I could tell you about that, but I’m I’m too depressed right now. And all I could think about was like, who could I spend four months with?
I mean, honestly, like, I don’t know. There are not very many people. Obviously, you.
Well, I love him, but I mean, we don’t know how many people can be, so how many people could be locked in a tin can with for four months?
Yeah, and really, it’s more like 12 months because you have four months there and then a month on the surface and then like four or five months back. And it’s like that’s a lot.
So I don’t know, I just I was just sitting there going, OK, I have a couple of friends that I think I could get through a good while with you. It might wear our friendship thin. But, you know, I don’t I don’t know that the Edwards team would want to spend that much time together.
Yeah. To be fair, they get to go to Mars. The number of people I would want to spend four months with is pretty small. The number of people that I would be willing to spend four months with to go to Mars is a lot bigger.
I mean, no know the inverse for me because I’m sitting here going, but I need everybody to be on the ball and my survival depends on these other people.
No, no, no, no. It’s actually I’d much I’d be much more willing to spend four months with people for no reason at all than on like an adventure. That could be very stressful.
You know, one thing that’s interesting. So I imagine that most of our audience that’s listening to this has seen the movie. Whether or not they’ve read the book, I certainly have. I’m going to try to sort of keep the movie discussion to a minimum. But every so often there are going to be little things that creep in. And one is that the book is based on his diary and it starts after the disaster on page one, his crew has already left. He’s alone. The story has begun in the movie. They naturally started a little earlier and you actually see the crisis that gets them all kicked out. And so as we’re talking about sort of who would you spend all this time with, there is a funny little thing which is in the book. We don’t actually know about these people very much like he mentions Johannsson. He mentions, you know, like a few people. Yeah, yeah. Like he mentions a few people. But we don’t really get a sense of the team dynamic. Whereas in the movie, by the time they leave, we have seen them bantering, we’ve seen them sort of, you know, giving each other a hard time around. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So it’s it’s interesting to start from this place of only knowing him.
I will say for those of you who know Editrix entire Genesis, you might know this, but for those of you who don’t, Terra Genesis came about because of this movie. So like it just as a part of the community, I feel like if you haven’t watched this movie, it’s imperative that you watch it mostly for your own sake, but also because like.
Yeah, there it is. Yeah.
It’s for those who don’t know, I had been thinking about making a terraforming game for a long time, but it was actually during lasing I went to go see a movie and one of the trailers before that movie was a trailer for The Martian. And all of a sudden it occurred to me, you know. I should really have my game about colonizing Mars available when this movie about colonizing Mars comes out, and that was the impetus to start making Terra Genesis and get it going.
So, yeah, it was it was, you know, an integral bit of the history of that game.
So something else about this book that I think is is that is similar to you is this guy, Mark Watney, is going to make science cool. I just kept thinking that over and over again because, like, there’s there’s a lot of detail which I love. Like, we complained about that in Gravity and even a little bit in Apollo 13 that we did find some some areas in which they had a lot of detail. Yeah, but this one, like he talks about how this applies for Aries three being on route while the Aries two crew heads home. And there’s like that fractional portion of me that’s Taipei that loves all of this detail and like the organization and how does it work? And hearing him talk about it is just cool. And I kept sitting here going, where was this? Where were these stories? When I was in high school, I really thought I hated science until this guy came along. And he’s like, no science. Cool. Let me tell you why. And I was like, I’m never going to learn any of this stuff, but you can talk to me about it always. And that’s how I was learning it. Well, I mean, yes, but but Mark Watney, this character makes science cool, which is which is interesting. I just never you know, it’s taken me a long time to recognize that that could be true for me as a non. I was always the the theater kid and the I liked English and history and science was not my jam.
And that is really one of the things that The Martian is rightfully famous for is like we’re going to we’re going to walk you through atmospheric composition calculations and make it really cool, like everything is laid out in a very smart and approachable way. I actually have a note here that it’s interesting how, like from the very beginning, it’s clear that this is going to be a smart story. But it’s interesting how there are certain things that he explains, like how the thrusters work or how the suit’s air cycles work. He goes into a lot of detail, but then there are other things that he just kind of tosses out there and just kind of assumes that you’ll pick up or that or assumes that you already know.
Like he just starts referring to the hab and he doesn’t he never actually says what the hab is. But you you either know or you pick it up, you know, and that I think is a is a sort of a sneaky way of making the audience feel smart, too, that he’s not just teaching you. He’s telling you a story that you’re keeping up with. Yeah.
And that’s also good, too, I feel like and that’s something we talk a lot about at work is is the how do you how how do we have stories that don’t dumb things down for the audience who is not dumb. Exactly. Audiences are not stupid. They’re really smart. And you
might know more about science than I do, but that doesn’t make me an idiot. Right. So don’t talk to stuff is cool. Yeah, it’s cool. So make it cool and make it interesting enough for me to want to watch it and get invested. So I don’t know. I feel like this first chapter just really hits a lot of like this is who we are and this is what we want to be. So it feels really good to read it and see it happen.
So this is a show about scientific accuracy. So we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the one thing in this book that isn’t scientifically accurate. This is a.. Put a huge premium on keeping everything scientifically accurate. In fact, he actually built a physics simulator on a computer to calculate the orbits of Earth and Mars and calculate the acceleration of the Hermès spacecraft. And you can actually look up on YouTube these simulations of how the ship sort of pings around the solar system and how many days it takes, like when they show up on sold for sixty nine, it’s because that’s actually how long it would take, given the orbits of all that. That’s but Andy Weir did say he gave himself one pass, one thing that is not realistic, and that is the opening incident. So the way Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars is there’s a dust storm, the likes of which have never been seen, and it reaches the thresholds that NASA calls an abort on the mission. They were going to be there for 30 days and instead they’re there for six and they blast off because this dust storm is threatening to tip over the maybe the Mars ascent vehicle, which is what they’re going to use to get back up to orbit. So rather than let it get knocked over and now the whole crew is stranded, they tell them, just blast off now. This is not scientifically accurate, Mars’s atmosphere is half of one percent as thick as Earth’s atmosphere, you could get hurricane speed winds on Mars and you wouldn’t even be able to feel it through your spacesuit like this. It would be a gentle breeze on your face if you weren’t wearing a helmet, because the air is so just whisper thin that nothing is going to get that thing moving with enough force to knock over the Navy. Right, let alone toss people around and rip off antennas and everything that it does. So the dust storm that starts the story is sort of an earth phenomenon. But then from then on, pretty much everything in this story is dead on scientifically accurate.
Well, OK, so let’s go into how does he survive it? Because this is one of my favorite parts is first of all, there’s this quote, which is. Delightful. I really like curse words, so I’m going to read all of them to you, not all of them.
There are many more in the book that I’m going to read and what I’m going to read out loud. But he says about waking up. A steady, obnoxious beeping that eventually roused me from a deep and profound desire to just fucking die. Honestly, it’s it’s just so lovely. It’s just so lovely. But so what he’s talking about is the he starts to describe the hole in his suit and how the antenna went through the zoo and through his side. And and it made a because he ended up on it like upside.
He landed face down in the sand. It created torque, which helped seal the well, the seal came from the gunk of the blood, but it created what the the talk of the thing as he lay on it, sort of pulled the hole closed a little bit.
Yeah. And then his blood falls into the hole. And again, Mars’s atmosphere is so thin that water naturally sublimates it just sort of instantly evaporates. So as his blood hit the hole, it immediately evaporated, which means it basically formed an insta scab that filled in the hole for the most part.
So there is one question that I have, and I feel like I should know the answer to this because we’re scuba divers. Yeah, but why does it backfill with nitrogen?
Ok, so a quick primer on how humans breathe. Earth’s atmosphere is about 70 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, and then the rest is just sort of other stuff. Oxygen is obviously very important to humans for breathing. Nitrogen, on the other hand, does nothing like literally it’s just filler.
Nitrogen is utterly useless. And so there are situations like with scuba diving where you can actually breathe other things. There’s something called argon, which is oxygen and argon. There’s helium, which is oxygen and helium. You can put a lot of gases in instead of nitrogen. But what nitrogen does is it keeps up the air pressure. So it just sort of fills the air enough to where it has as much air pressure as humans need. And then you keep a certain amount of oxygen. So every spacesuit has an oxygen tank and then a nitrogen tank that it can use to keep the pressure up. So when his suit started venting out into the Martian atmosphere, it was giving him some oxygen to keep the oxygen level up. But mostly it was giving him nitrogen to keep the air pressure up in his suit. OK, and so what? And so as he walks you through the steps of what was happening, it’s venting nitrogen. It’s backfilling with nitrogen, but then it runs out of nitrogen and so it starts back filling with oxygen. But there is actually such a thing as too much oxygen. There’s oxygen system, which is why all of a sudden it starts venting that to sort of try to keep him at the right level of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, everything. And finally, the oxygen alarm is what Weixin is. You’re getting too much oxygen. It might do damage wake you up.
And he says, like, at the moment that he wakes up, it’s like 80 percent. Yeah. So he’s a lot, which is a lot. But he it’s it’s low enough that he should be able to get back to the hab. Yeah, fine. If he gets a move on. Um, so one of the other things that that happens here
is do you guys remember I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Do you guys remember that viral video that went around of the guy who was like trail running and then what, a mountain lion comes out like he sees like the cub and then the mountain lion follows him for a long time, like six or seven minutes of him slowly backing away.
And this thing just getting along and doing like the the thing we’re like scrabbles sort of like, yeah, Beth’s caught him. There’s this moment in the video that makes me laugh really hard because he’s like new and it’s just like it’s something that is so today.
Like that’s that’s a phrasing that we that’s kind of a colloquialism of right now. And I love I love how Andy Weir writes Mark Watney, because there’s a moment where he says that, like he he uses yay and bu in parentheses.
He says, I came up over the ridge and I saw something that made me really happy and something that made me really sad. The hab was intact. Yay! But the Amobi was gone. And it’s just like these little bits kind of keep the whole thing from feeling really depressing and grim or to science like this is this is not a college professor who’s here to just tell you about electrical engineering. This is a guy who’s going to tell you about electrical engineering. But then, you know, 30 seconds later, he’s going, yay, boo.
Yeah, I so he talks about why the the crew leaves like they have to get to the Hermès and the Hermès has to go now. Yes. And he says that it’s the orbital dynamics make the trip safer and. The shorter the earlier you leave now, is that true or is that just up the stakes?
No, no, that’s definitely true. So what what he’s referring to is if I’m remembering the the part correctly, he’s talking about why they didn’t come back and get his body because he says, why give that up for some sentimentality?
Well, no, why the Hermes has to leave because he’s already talked about why they you don’t want to have extra weight and the MAV can’t land again because it doesn’t have the parachutes. So that’s just not going to happen. But he’s talking about why I mean, they leave why the Hermes has to go immediately. Like as soon as the crew gets there, they have to leave.
Yeah. So, I mean, it’s sort of twofold. The first is, yes, from a normal orbital dynamics standpoint, you know, Mars and Earth are getting farther and farther away from each other every second. So if you’re trying to hurry back home, you the longer you wait, the longer the journey is. That’s one of those weird things about space that sort of has no analog on Earth. It’s a different islands are always the same distance from each other. They aren’t drifting around, whereas in space, however long you wait, determines how long the journey is going to be. But then the other factor is that, you know, they took the movie. So like, what would you wait for? There’s nothing coming back to the surface. So you just go you just kind of wave at Mars. You’re supposed to be sad. Like you have got four months to get back to Earth. You’re going to plenty of time. Right.
Um, so I guess I don’t know. I’ve got one. I’ve got just like one thing I want to reiterate before we end chapter one. I really like that Andy Weir feels like a magician because he’s he’s laid out this great argument for why why Mark Watney is screwed and why no one is at fault. And so because of that, we can focus on his survival rather than, like we said, all of the feelings that might come up with him being left behind. So it’s like Andy Weir’s like, look over here, look over here instead of over here at what we would normally look at the what what these stories often are in terms of being grim. And we get really caught up in our humanity, essentially, which means we get really caught up in our emotions and our feelings and our emotions and our emotions and that lizard brain instead of our scientists. Yeah, exactly. So I just it really feels like magic in the way that I because I as a person who loves story and acting and all of that, I tend to get very caught up in what’s fair and what’s not. And he’s just completely overridden that for me. Yeah. And that’s that that’s really special in my opinion.
Oh, it’s so good on Andy.
We’re well. And it’s actually kind of the perfect segue into Chapter two, because, you know, on the one hand, he wants to keep this story upbeat. He wants to keep it from just being grim. But on the other hand, you do need stakes. And so one really great way of dealing with that is chapter one. He’s kind of depressed, like he starts out with I’m fucked and he ends the chapter with, yeah, so I’m fucked. And then Chapter two starts and he immediately says, All right, so I feel a lot better after a night’s sleep. And it’s like, OK, don’t we established the stakes. We’ve established everything that’s against him. We’ve established all the reasons why he’s going to die.
Now, let’s get to work like, OK, he’s Mark Watney, he’s he’s an upbeat guy, he’s had a night’s sleep, he’s had some food. Let’s get to work and solve the problem.
And that’s like what this story is about and part of and part of the having a good night’s sleep and thinking of everything logically is he even says pretty up front, as we mentioned before, is I’m not going to slowly starve to death. I’ll tell you that because he’s got morphine, he’s like, I will fight. I will I will take that. Yeah. I’m not going to starve to death. So I just I can’t I couldn’t believe that when I read that it didn’t just sound super grim. It sounded like a logical decision by an optimistic man. Yeah, that’s that’s the baseline. Yeah. Let’s work up from here. Yes. Yeah. So, um, again, go on. Andy Weir. Yes.
Markwayne, the first line that I have here about Chapter two is great inventory of assets and problems. Chapter two starts with just a list. Here’s what I’ve got. Here’s what is arrayed against me. Just bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Here, you just sort of sets the stage so you can almost think of it like a workmans table. Here are all my tools. What can we make with this? Yeah. And it really has, you know, back a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about Apollo 13, there’s a there’s a moment where they have to get an air filter from one machine to work in a different machine that wasn’t designed for it. And they sort of spill all this stuff out onto the table and they say this is what we have to work with. Let’s figure this out.
And there’s a quote that I that I read, which was The Martian, is for everyone who wished that that scene was the whole movie. Yeah. And that really feels true. It’s like that’s that’s what this chapter is that’s laying everything out on the table and saying, OK, what can we do with this?
That scene in Apollo 13 is just so great and it’s so short. So that’s exactly what this book feels like. And it’s just like the in a fun, high stakes way.
By the way, while we’re mentioning Apollo 13, one thing that struck me on so I’ve read The Martian before. I’ve seen the movie. One thing that struck me on this reread is clearly this story is inspired by Apollo 13. And a lot of ways this is, you know, things going wrong in space is always going to have some kind of connection to back to Apollo 13, especially if it’s things going wrong in space and we’re working the problem. But one thing that really struck me this time is there are a lot of pretty direct homages to Apollo 13. Stuff like this is the third mission. He specifically outlines a progression of the Aries missions that parallels the Apollo missions. Apollo 11 was the first to land on the moon. Apollo 12 landed on the moon, and then Apollo 13 was going to be the third mission. And then things went wrong. Aries one landed on Mars. Aries two landed on Mars One.
I just I was thinking back to that episode of Apollo 13. I was like, yeah, we landed on Mars once, like the moon or the moon once. That Alex is like, yeah, we played it on the moon a lot more than that.
I had to pull her aside after the after the be like we landed on the moon.
Was it. I know nothing about space. History is not my job. So that’s why I love like I was thinking of. Oh my God, how embarrassing.
Well I wasn’t going to bring it up but you know, you did. But yeah.
So this is this is clearly, you know, the he specifically says Aries one was the first group to land on Mars. They came back and they had like, you know, tickertape parades and everything.
Aries two landed on Mars and they got like a firm handshake and a cup of coffee, which is kind of what Apollo Twelve got. Like people got jaded about landing on the moon pretty quick. And then Apollo 13 was the one where everything went wrong, just like Aries three is the one where everything went wrong. So it’s definitely drawing a lot from the Apollo 13 experience.
Um, I like I liked this log entry that was, um, and well fed. And I have a purpose. Fix the damn radio. Yeah.
And it’s just he’s so goal oriented and he he explicitly tells you what he’s going to do next and explains how he’s going to do it and what he’s been thinking about. And, you know, you get to kind of see the muling, which is just I don’t know, there’s just something fun about being inside someone’s brain that is so smart and getting to follow along as someone who, while quite intelligent, is not that kind of smart. That’s not that’s not my thing. That will never be my thing. I don’t want it to be. And but but I still get to follow it and I get to understand it. It’s so neat.
That is one of the things that I think this story does better than almost maybe any story I’ve ever seen is it captures the important part of science, because so much of what people think of as science is really memorizing other people’s results. It’s memorizing how the life cycle of a cell works or, you know, like these. Things that scientists have discovered, but that’s not science, science is not a body
of knowledge, science is a process of approaching problems. And this story really captures that, that, you know, when you’re presented with a problem, you don’t need to give in to your emotions. You don’t need to freak out. You don’t need to, you know, reach for any of these things. You just work the problem. And a lot of what he does is beyond what the audience could do. You know, like you need to know electrical engineering. You need to know all sorts of chemical formulas and stuff like that. But a lot of what he does is pretty simple math. You know, like at one point he’s just totaling up the square footage of the hab.
And here’s how much land area I have to grow potatoes. OK, then I’ve also got these bunks that I’m not using there each to square meters. So that brings it up to, you know, one or two. And then I’ve got the the rovers and like, he’s doing this stuff. How much water do I need for this this much soil? Well, that’s something that if you just walked up to somebody on the street and was like, hey, you’ve got one hundred and seventeen square meters of soil, how much water do you need for that? I think most people would be like, I don’t know. But think about it like how much water do you need for one square meter of soil? You can probably just look that up and then you multiply that by a hundred and sixteen or whatever, and then you’re done.
Like a lot of these are not really complicated problems. They’re just not the kind of thing that the average person has trained themselves to just figure out.
Yeah, and that’s the spirit of this story.
And that is what science is.
It goes a little bit further than that, because I think that what we see is a lot of simple problems that are compounded by other problems. Yes. And so he talks about how this is how many potatoes I can grow. And then he comes back and he’s like, no, it’s not. I can when they when they start to Germany, I can push them deeper and I can plant potatoes on top of it, which most move them to deeper soil and then plant new. No, no, no. I think he’s talking about you push them deeper into plants above them, because that’s how a lot of potato growing works is. You can do it in layers, but potato farmers wouldn’t do that because they’ve got millions of potatoes to deal with. It’s not cost effective. It’s not. Yeah. And and so why would you do that? But for him, he’s going to do the potatoes in layers and that’s really smart. I mean, now that was my understanding of it because I think he’s going to have the same depth of dirt for the entire place.
Maybe my understanding was moving them to a different spot, but who knows?
I’m so a lot of from my gardening experience, I know that I think it’s like potatoes and onions. You can do layers of that. Yeah, it’s fascinating. Um. Oh, look at that. I my gardening has come in handy for your botany powers. That’s right. Flowers.
Yeah, it’s that is just what I love about this story.
I mean there’s there’s one log entry soul eleven. Yeah. Where he just says it’s one line. I wonder how the cubs are doing. And I’m like, dude, my dude, my dude, I’m with you.
How are the cubs doing. And I love that Mark Watney is from Chicago and and he’s like rooting for the underdog because at this point.
The Cubs had not broken their curse when this book came out. They had not overcome that. And I was just sitting here going, spoiler alert, my friend, if you live long enough, you will lose your mind, because the cubs were will also be like making this great big comeback.
So you guys can be friends forever. And I’m so like, I don’t know, there’s just something about the underdog rooting for the underdog. And I always love the underdog. And so I was here for it.
By the way, Chicago earned their ownership of Mark Watney because among those people that we were talking about earlier, as people would email in and talk to Andy Weir about how we would solve this kind of problem, apparently a significant contingent of them were from the the University of Chicago or whatever. He mentions his alma mater at one point. And the reason that that is his alma mater is because they had a strong contributor.
So it’s like one person was like, hey, did you guys read this comic? You have to read this. Yeah, exactly. Oh, I love that. That’s awesome.
There is a I made I made a note here, which is, you know, as much as I love the first person sort of or second person kind of diary format of this story, it is an interesting choice because what it means is we never actually see him working out a problem. We only ever see him talking about how I don’t know how I’m going to solve this. And then he shows up the next day and he says, So I figured it out. Here’s how I did it.
I don’t completely agree with that. In Chapter three, he he you get to see I mean, he goes back through how he works, worked out a problem.
Well, that’s what I mean is it’s it’s interesting because these are diary entries. We don’t actually see him sort of trial and error his way through. He mostly it’s just it’s a fait accompli. Hey, I figured it out. Here’s what I did yesterday. And he sort of walks you through the solution, which I think simultaneously, you know, keeps the story flowing because he’s not going down a million false starts. But it also helps contribute to the sense of, again, that term that we keep using on the show competence, porn. And because we sort of only see the successes because he says, oh, yeah, I read a few things, but here’s what worked. And so it’s just a series of him describing the success and it’s just that it’s so good, so good.
There’s another great, uh, there are two great quotes, and you already alluded to one of them, but I have them here. He’s talking about how he’s going to make soil out of Martian dirt. And at one end, he’s talking about how he’s gathered up all of the the bags of poop that have been left out on on on the surface of Mars from his crewmates and how he is going to put them all into all of it. He’s going to open and put into a big, you know, container or whatever, and he’s going to put in his newer excrement and he’s going to put in a little water in the bacteria is going to do its thing.
And he sees how he’s making soil that then his potatoes can grow.
He can he can put in sand and then Martian dirt and then this fertilizer and then, um, uh, earth dirt. And he goes, my asshole is doing as much to keep me alive as my brain.
And I cackled. I got old. I loved it. It was so funny. Oh, good, good swearing.
The asides and the little you know, whenever he gets increasingly invested in the TV shows that his clients brought, like Three’s Company. And, you know, there’s just there’s so many good little sort of character moments and asides that are like this one.
Hell, yeah, I’m a botanist. Fear my botany powers. Yeah. Which, like I said, you just alluded to, but it’s oh again, I’m just like this man is funny. I want to be his friend.
One of one of the great lines from the movie trailers that got played everywhere that I think comes in later in the book. It might have been invented for the movie. Is Mark Watney looking up into the camera and saying, I am the greatest botanist on this planet, which is just one of those great little.
Yeah. Technically true kind of jokes.
Yeah, I feel like I actually was friends with this guy in high school and he talks about how he was like a dead guy, was like, yeah, I don’t know if you if you know this, but I was a big nerd in high school and it just makes me shout out to Travis, who was the biggest nerd I knew and I didn’t fully know it.
But this it just he’s not an optimist like this, but I feel like I would have been this guy’s friend and shout out to Laci, who, if anybody doubts Laci’s nerd cred, she brought me into her weekly indie game. I had never played Dungeons and Dragons until I met her.
It’s is it in this? Oh, yes. OK, we’ll talk about the Dungeons and Dragons stuff in Chapter three because he talks about it more, which I’m all done with Chapter two.
I’m, uh, I think. OK, so my last thing about. Uh, chapter. Ta ta is holding, um, he he Andy, we are got me so caught up in the science
that I managed to forget how anyone connected to this character might feel, which is fascinating because he’s done that. He’s forgotten, like to think about how his parents are feeling. And I was so caught up in the science that I didn’t think about it. And that’s out of that is not normal at all for who I am as a person. And then and then he at the end of the chapter, reality comes crashing back. And we’ve had a lot of fun. This chapter. There’s been a lot of humor and a lot of optimism. And there’s just like this pattern. And I got really upset because I was like, oh, yeah, we’re going he’s going to survive. We’re going to do this. Yes. And then Andy Weir’s like and he comes in and he just like Godzilla’s all over it.
And the rose colored glasses just go like, shatter everywhere. And I, I found it upsetting. I found it really what I do, what he how did he stop all over. I don’t even remember. I mean I can look but I don’t remember exactly what it was.
I think it’s, I think it’s the water. I think he says he has no idea how he’s going to come out, what it is. Yeah, I don’t know, because then chapter three begins as he’s talking about.
Oh yeah. How do I generate water. Oh yeah. He talks about how like he’s got a thousand days.
It’s, it’s the water but it’s the potatoes and he has to continually grow them. And how many calories does he need. And so you end with there’s about a thousand days of food I don’t have and I don’t have a plan for how to get it. Shit. So and you’re just like, oh um.
But luckily he comes through and the Aries three mission was supposed to be on Mars over Thanksgiving. And so the shrinks at NASA, as he put it, decided that the crew ought to cook a meal together rather than having everything just ready to be microwaved or whatever, as astronauts generally do. They sent along a small package of real live non freeze dried potatoes so the crew can cook a Thanksgiving dinner.
The only reason that he would manage to be able to manage any of this is because normally that’s not you know, they would be frozen potatoes and then he’d have been screwed.
Yes. And I think in general, he can generate soil. He can plant the potatoes and grown more potatoes. And that becomes his plan.
Mm hmm. All right. Chapter three. Yep. All right. So he’s doing a bunch of algebra and he doesn’t explain it. And I, I have this thing about the first few chapters. He’s been going through all of the math. And I. What is it? What is he trying to calculate? I don’t see. Listen, you guys, I tried to reread Chapter three, so I was fresh in my mind and my husband kept distracting me like, sure, he’ll be shocked, shocked at that. He was so rude that he would go so far to find that there’s gambling going on in this establishment. Oh, my God, that’s a little. And whatever whatever. Casablanca. Watch it. It’s also. For once, he wasn’t talking to me carry on. I have actually seen it now finally as of this summer. OK, so what is he doing? Because you did ask. So he’s talking about still creating calories. Yeah. Um, so he needs essentially one thousand four hundred twenty five days of food. So anyway, I, I would not have minded him doing the algebra because I feel like if Marwah Mark Watney explained it to me, I would understand it. And he didn’t explain it to me and I don’t entirely begrudge him of that. But so far so good on the explanations. Yes, excellently done.
So he has this plan. He’s going to plant potatoes in the soil that he’s generating himself all over the floor of the hab, but he needs water. And that is sort of the the problem that we are left with, uh, at the end of Chapter three. But he’s working through how do I generate water? And he’s shoveling in a lot of dirt from the Martian surface and trying to maximize where he can grow it. He’s going it on the ground. He’s growing it on his crewmates bunks. He’s growing it on tables. He’s growing it in the rovers and the rovers pop tents, which are for emergencies. He’s really maximizing the amount of area that he can turn into farmland on Mars.
There was one moment where he said that he had prepped the the bunks so that they could carry that amount of weight of soil, and I was like, the soil is going to.
The soil is going to be heavier than a person, really, but, yeah, that’s true.
I mean, well, I mean, I guess you picture a bag of fertilizer that is smaller than a person and it’s heavy as hell.
Yeah, well, I mean, remember, we’ve got these like, I started gardening and we’ve got these massive pots and back that are unmoveable. I don’t know how we’re ever going to move them through. You guys, there are tricks for this. Put up milk, milk bottles at the bottom and then put soil on top. Then you can move them just so you know.
That’s why we fill the entire thing.
Ok, so I felt like he’s done a really good job with the emotional roller coaster just in the in the explaining of all of the math and the science. He’s still he’s not making the science and math super dry. He’s still you’re encountering all of the emotions that come with this and not just his, but yours. And I don’t know, I I thought it was woven quite love. Lovely.
Yeah, that is exactly how I say that, not a word I one thing that I really appreciate because again, this is one of those things that I think any lesser writer would have been tempted to do. And Andy Weerd doesn’t. And it’s so the right choice. And that is he doesn’t flirt with madness. You know, a lot of these stories like Castaway, you’ve got Tom Hanks developing a budding relationship with a volleyball and like kind of going into, you know, crazy guy to say that that wouldn’t happen. No, but it might not. And a lot of writers treat it as sort of a given that if you’re alone for more than three days, then you’re immediately going nuts. And I really appreciate that. No, you know what? Mark Watney is lonely and he’s scared and he’s worried that he’s going to die.
But he’s also like, OK, he’s also got tethers to the outside world in ways that, like, Castaway doesn’t, you know, because you he still can listen to music, he can watch shows and he can, you know, pretend like he’s talking to someone by doing the diary.
It’s true. The volleyball again, I’m not I’m not saying that, like, this had to be.
What I’m what I’m saying is that a lot of these stories, you know, I’ve seen movies and TV shows where somebody left alone for, like, you know, a few months and all of a sudden they’re like super quirky and eccentric. And it’s like, OK, but it’s refreshing that, you know, spoiler alert by the end of this story, he’s still not really going like he’s well. So a pretty resilient guy. And I just think that was the right choice for this.
I think it was the right choice. But I will say there’s a line where he says, um, little hab on the prairie. And for me, I found that really jolting as someone who grew up in the Midwest.
I’m from South Dakota and, you know, Little House on the Prairie takes place in South Dakota. And I hated those books. I hated them because it was too lonely. It was too barren. It was, you know, the the guy up and moves his family because he can, like, see a house and he’s like, no, no, no. That’s not why I’m out here. We’re leaving. So he’s constantly like he’s trying to get away from society.
Now, I could be wrong on some of this because I did not read all the books because I hated it. Sorry, Christina. Um, but I. I can’t stand it. And so the the the fact that he even said that, like, brought up some serious anxiety for me, because I don’t I don’t want that for him, you know, and like he I like I said, he has these tethers to his past life and to the outside world.
But it’s it’s still it’s just it sounds so lonely and it’s so scary. And for me, I found that incredibly jolting. Now, people who maybe don’t have the same reaction to you, Laura Ingalls Wilder might not have that might not be so.
I think that was privatizing like that was meant to be a real zinger line. No, not for not for the boys. Boys are me to read that crap.
So one of the other manages to Apollo 13 is he talks about how the PUP tents, how he would love to be able to use two of the three. Um, uh, what are those called the pup tent. Well, no, no, there are two pop tents and he’s got like essentially three exits out of the airlock, the airlocks. And he would happily do give up two of the airlocks for the PUP tents, but he can’t figure out how the how the hab airlocks are so much bigger than the pup tent. He can’t figure out how to connect the two. And all I could think of was Apollo 13 and how they had to get the two filters to fit together. And I was like, man, if he had access to his Houston, yeah, he he’d have an answer. Someone would figure it out for him. And I don’t know, it just and he has to not do it. He has to choose like, OK, I’m going to have to lose air every time I go in and out of the pup tent, which is actually something that is sort of worth mentioning is that Mark Watney is not a superhero.
There are moments in this story where he comes against a problem and you just can’t do that.
I guess, like, that’s just there’s no there’s no fix.
You just have to work around it or he’s not going to be the one who comes up with the answer. Yeah, he he his his expertise only goes so far. He doesn’t have a roundtable of people.
Yeah. He had to lend their help. He specifically tells us his role in the mission was as the botanist and as the mechanic chemical engineer. And so he’s good at repairing things which is great, he’s good at growing food, which is great. But he’s not going to be the one who, you know, rewrites the code of the rover or anything like that. He has a specific skill set and he’s not a just sort of all around perfect hero who can do anything yet, which again, just makes the story more interesting.
So can we talk about the D.A. part?
Yes, we can talk about the D.A., the D.A. part, you guys, he he he’s talking about how he had played a cleric and he had this spell that was create water and he thought it was stupid. So we never used it. And now he’s wishing he had create water. And all I could think was. What would I want to do?
I always play barbarians, and so, like I mean, you make it sound effects now, but like I just I do I like rages and I don’t those aren’t really things you need in real life.
But you play clerics.
I do. And I have great water. I’ve never used it.
Is there a spell that you wish you could have in real life?
There’s so many spells I wish I could have. And we’re like all of the spells. I wish I could have created water. Even though you don’t use it. Yeah, I don’t use it in the game. I would use it in real life.
Oh man. I’m typing code. I don’t want to go over to the water cooler just for you, so you just get real lazy.
Yeah. This is why we don’t have the budget. This is why we don’t have it. Because you may be lazy assholes. Yep.
That’s the idea. I would be real sneaky. That would that’s what I would do.
I would like create you’re a barbarian in the game but you are a rogue in real life.
We don’t need to talk about that. It’s true, though.
Ok. All right, so we’re nearing the end of Chapter nine. Thank you. What do you get?
Ok, so there’s a moment, um, I, I just.
There’s a moment at the end that’s like sexy as fuck, you know, yeah, yeah, it’s totally weird, but the breakdown of the complex systems and he’s weighing the advantages and disadvantages and he’s explaining it all. And I’m not following it all super well because this guy is distracting me. But I’m still I’m sitting here being distracted by my husband while going, oh, God, this guy’s brain, it’s so sexy.
Leave me alone. That’s that’s a healthy marriage.
Anyway, I just I, I really liked that. I liked the explanation of all of those, how he’s going to get water and why he’s not going to do it this way because it’s not worth it. It’s really like he’s got an idea, but it’s up our whole air supply and we don’t want to. And he’s like, I’ve got an idea. It’s real dangerous and dumb, but it’s not dumb. It’s incredibly intelligent. It’s just real danger and risky. And, um, I, I loved it. I loved that part.
That takes us into Chapter four, which will be next week.
No, no, no. We’re not done yet. He I don’t remember what he says, but he’s at one point he’s like, I’ll be too dead to appreciate it. And I something about the water. But again. Cackling So much cackling you guys. But it ends. Do you know do you remember how Chapter three ends Three’s Company reference? Yes. I simply can’t abide the replacement of Crecy with Cindy. Three’s Company may never be the same after this fiasco. Time will tell.
And I’m just like, oh, my God, look, I don’t the the random. Yeah, old. They’re not pop culture references. They’re like part culture. Yes. Yeah. And I love them even though they don’t all make sense to me because like hell if I watched Three’s Company, I don’t know anything about it.
But I’ve seen in two different contexts people making jokes about how repetitive that show was. One of them is in The Martian where he jokes that I watched the episode of Three’s Company where one of them sees something and takes it out of context. The joke being that that happens in every episode of Three’s Company and then again on Friends. There’s a moment where they’re watching Three’s Company. And Chandler says, oh, this must be the episode of Three’s Company where there’s some kind of misunderstanding. And Phoebe picks up the remote and goes, oh, well, then I’ve seen this one and changes the channel. So like, yeah, I want me to watch Three’s Company. And apparently it’s all the same joke.
But apparently, um, but apparently replacing this character is unacceptable. Yeah. So anyway, so that takes us to Chapter four.
We’re going to be picking up with Chapter four next week and continuing our way through this book. It’s going to be the next several episodes of our show, making our way through The Martian. And then when we wrap up the book, we’re going to have a special episode talking about the movie and how it did, adapting both the science and the book.
So, you know, go get the book, because it’s most excellent and it’s not the exact same as the movie, which is also incredible awesome. But make sure you get it. We’re going to start with Chapter four.
Hmm. Follow along if you want. If you’ve got comments, you can leave them on our YouTube page, where we’ll be mirroring this episode. You can put them on Facebook or Twitter. We’re all over the place, Sedgwicks Entertainment. And yeah, if you have any questions, we can jump in to them in the next episode. And we love for you to follow along.
Yes, yes. Ask us questions and we’ll make Alex explain things to us together.
All right. Thank you, guys. Have a good night.
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