Alexander Winn and Lacey Hannan are back again to discuss chapters 11 – 13 of Andy Weir’s The Martian! The L in LCD stands for liquid, Kristin Wiig is the best depiction of what a PR manager is like (editor’s note: it’s true), and that fabric stuff is OMINOUS AS HELL (apparently).
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.
Alex [00:00:04] Hey, folks, welcome back to The Synthesis, yes it was. I’m Alexander Winn and this very loud person is his wife, Lacey Hannan.
Lacey [00:00:16] Yes. Who is going to throw a book at him today.
Alex [00:00:20] And we are so glad to be back. We had some technical difficulties last week and before that was the holiday.
Alex [00:00:28] And we’re just so happy to be back with all of our beloved fans and great, super, super duper sorry that it’s been so long. Seriously, you guys, thank you for your patience. Appreciate you. Just felt like I need to put that out there.
Alex [00:00:44] Yep. So we are picking up where we left off. We are doing our read through of The Martian by Andy Weir. We are currently doing chapters 11, 12 and 13. And yeah, picking back up. We are in within the story.
Alex [00:01:01] We are on Soul 97 and souls are Martian days. So probably about a hundred and two days, something like that, into the adventure. Mark Watney has been getting the Pathfinder up and running in the hopes of using it to contact Earth. And he doesn’t know it. But the people back on Earth have picked up on what he’s doing and they’re working on it, too.
Lacey [00:01:26] And so far, we’ve had them switching back and forth between chapters and chapter. Well, Chapter 11 is the first time that we have Mark’s point of view and the earthlings point of view.
Alex [00:01:39] Yeah, it’s it’s intercutting for the first time. And that is not the only format change that we’re going to have this episode. Things are shaken up. He does a lot of fun stuff. This we are this weird guy. He’s a very weird guy. Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, we start out Chapter 11 and we are back on Earth and we’re huddled up with the NASA and JPL folks trying to get Pathfinder to connect or trying to connect to Pathfinder on Mars. And we just have to start out with with Tim being a jackass because he’s like one of my favorite, right?
Lacey [00:02:19] Yes. Because hit like him expressing like, OK, this is this is about we’re going to talk about time lag here. And he goes through all of it. And then the response is, hey, Venkaiah is. Yeah. Got like a degree in physics man. He knows how to do this. And Tim’s responses, you can never tell with managers.
Lacey [00:02:38] And I’m just like sitting here going, this is a good indication that in real life people get promoted past their ability all the time and their subordinates have to deal with bullshit a lot.
Alex [00:02:50] And it’s also, I thought, a great way of conveying exposition, because that’s the kind of thing that you can’t actually count on the audience to necessarily know. Yeah. And so you need somebody to say it. And it’s always tricky. You know, if if anybody out there is a screenwriter or or a novel writer, you know, conveying that kind of information without it being clunky is always hard.
Alex [00:03:11] And, you know, you watch TV, you watch movies. There are plenty of times where people do exposition really badly. And I really like this sort of elegant solution, which is you have a douchebag conveyance like he’s got he’s going to spag those kind of a douche bag.
Alex [00:03:26] I mean, that that is a perfect example of it. But he’s kind of a jackass.
Lacey [00:03:30] I mean, he’s a jackass, but that’s different from their their degree, their degrees here.
Alex [00:03:35] But I just I love that. Like, if you need to if you need to risk talking down to the audience, the way you do it is you just lean into it and you just talk down to people. You just have a character who’s willing to talk down to people.
Lacey [00:03:47] And yeah, I feel like this is a good, honest snipe and I just appreciated that a lot. I also appreciate that Venkaiah is not a manager who is promoted past his ability. Yeah, I mean, obviously he’s highly capable as as we have touched on multiple times.
Alex [00:04:04] This book is very much competence porn. This is all about the experts doing expert things. And I guess Tim just doesn’t believe that he he he still needs to be convinced.
Alex [00:04:15] Yes. So we hang out with them for a little bit. And then, like Lacy said, we jump back to Mark Watney on Mars pretty quickly. Yes. And this was one of those moments. There are few moments in this book that the the relief is just palpable. It’s so he wakes up and Pathfinder is pointed at Earth. And as he says, Pathfinder has no way of knowing where Earth is. So the only way that it could pick Earth’s location out in the sky is if it had connected to Earth.
Alex [00:04:48] And he’s got a line back to Earth. And just the way it’s described and, you know, I’m doing Lacey’s reading the physical book. I’m doing the audio book narrated by well, narrated by Wil Wheaton. And just the delivery and everything is so. Like, I jumped in to Chapter 11, I had not been reading through to here, I just started Chapter 11 and I was already just like, oh, so palpable.
Lacey [00:05:13] I, I loved that. He cried. Yeah, I mean, and it makes it obviously makes total sense, but. Like the crying and then the immediate, like, I would like to delete things that I’ve written. I don’t go there and delete. Yeah, but is writing that he’s crying, it means that he’s not embarrassed about the crying. And I feel like he’s a man secure in his in his emotional masculinity. And I love it. And to me that is that is Andy weir taking time to write the future he wants to see and I say all creators out there take note because that’s what we should be doing. Yes. And but anyway, I just I love that, you know, it’s just such a human thing. He’s got this big emotional thing and then he’s also got logic going. Oh, I wrote a couple of things that I thought nobody would read until I died. Yeah, exactly. So it was it was nice. Yeah.
Alex [00:06:11] And then at that at that point, we cut back to Earth again and we’re you know, we’re jumping back and forth pretty quick and we are in a press conference. And so one of the things that I thought was interesting is there’s a fairly lengthy section here in the press conference where, again, it’s a very elegant way of doing exposition because one of the experts is just being interviewed. What does this mean? What are we going to be able to do? How is this going to change things? You know, this whole story for 10 chapters has been about someone alone. And then we also had these characters over here who are trying to get to the guy who is alone. And so we are totally changing the rules of this engagement. Like this is a totally different kind of story. Now, it’s not somebody who’s alone. It’s somebody who can talk to Earth. And so we just sort of step through that in the press conference. What is this going to mean for the story going forward, just to sort of set the tone?
Lacey [00:07:03] See, now, I didn’t write anything about this because I jump straight back to the Tim. I mean, I read this part. Yes. Don’t don’t get me wrong. But Tim Tim is my.
Alex [00:07:13] Oh, yeah. I’ve got a note here. The very next line on my notes is waiting for the waiting for the panorama.
Lacey [00:07:19] Tim is a douche and that’s fun is so you got it. You got to find a better word because to me it’s him being a smart ass.
Alex [00:07:29] Yeah. I like him and I want to keep him for this reason alone. It’s dry and I love good dry humor.
Lacey [00:07:35] But, you know, I think he’s talking to Venkat and. When it comes up and says, you know anything to him because they’re waiting to get a response and Tim says totally, but we’re staying at this black screen because it’s way more interesting than pictures from Mars.
Lacey [00:07:53] And I feel like if you’re an NCIS fan, that’s where he would get swatted in the back of the head, or if your grandpa does that. Um, this is where this is where Tim would get swatted. And anyway, I just. I enjoyed that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alex [00:08:10] So one of the things that, you know, we’ve talked over and over throughout The Martian about things that are sort of fun challenges, things that are oh, that’s a that’s a fun kind of world to play. And a little bit how do you make water? How do you grow food, you know, these sorts of things.
Alex [00:08:24] And for me, communicating through the camera falls into that category like you’ve got a camera. It can rotate 360 degrees. They can obviously see you. So one way of communication is taken care of, but how do you get a message back?
Alex [00:08:39] The camera turns, that’s all go.
Alex [00:08:43] And it’s fun to watch him sort of walk through. Well, I could put little letters around, but then that would be a lot of letters. So, you know, and sort of playing with all these different ways of doing it before he finally settles on the one that he does.
Lacey [00:08:56] I personally am right before that. Like, you know, he’s he asks them a question about like, can they. Are you reading or are you reading me, you know, and they can point at yes or no and he’s very excited about the yes because this is the most exciting yes. Since prom night. And I about lost my mind when I read that. First of all, so funny. Second of all, I was like, yes, get some makhaya nerd like a part of me. That’s like, yes, yes, I want the nerds to get. This guy is a charming, nerdy guy making it work. And then of course, I want to know, did you get some money from me? Uh, I did not actually. Neither did I. I mean, I was I was pretty devout at the time, guys, so that wasn’t going to have to be fair.
Alex [00:09:42] I didn’t actually go to prom with my girlfriend. I went to prom with a friend of mine who had no date. And I was like, well, that cannot stand. So so you so I went with my friend and that’s very sweet. Yeah. So it wasn’t really it wasn’t something that I was hoping for, but yeah, I just, it just I like it.
Lacey [00:10:02] And then when the nerds get there. Yeah. Not theirs, it’s not theirs.
Lacey [00:10:07] Whatever, I just, I want all nerds to have a little something. Yeah. Yeah. OK, great. Very good of you.
Alex [00:10:16] So yeah. You know, so what Mark does, he’s got this camera that can rotate and spaceplane this because I don’t know what this table is. OK, so the you know, the initial thought obviously he’s got a he’s got a camera that can rotate. So the first thing he does is he sets up yes and no. That’s cool. But that doesn’t really allow communication just allows you to respond to questions. So he’s got to have some way for them to convey complex information. So his first thought is I could put letters all the way around. But, you know, there are twenty six letters in the English alphabet and you also probably going to need ten numbers. 039 And then you might need a question mark, like there’s kind of a lot of stuff that you would need and at a certain point you would have so many things around the circle that each one has such a narrow degree of arc that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell. Is that camera pointed at the M or the N? You know, so he’s he’s gone. How can I get this in a way that has fewer options basically around the circle? And what he settles on is ASCII. Now, Askey is a way for computers to store text, basically, so, you know, computers work on ones and zeros and so what they have is a system where hexadecimal. So I’m suddenly sort of backtracking through all the weird math nerd stuff that I’m going to have to give to describe this. All right. So a base 16, no system so hexadecimal are a way of storing 16.
Alex [00:11:53] Digits at a time, so, you know, normally we use 10 digits in numbers, so we go 039, this is hexadecimal use 039 and then ABCDE, AEF, OK, and so with pairs of these characters, you can store other information. So Hex Colors is a way of doing colors if you do webdesign, that sort of thing. But what he’s using it for is an alphabet table. Right. So each letter of the alphabet has a different hex code.
Alex [00:12:23] So for example, a might be zero zero and B zero one and then C is zero two.
Lacey [00:12:29] So he’s essentially cutting down the symbols he has by like 10.
Alex [00:12:36] Well, no, because an ASCII table doesn’t just include letters. It also includes numbers. It also includes symbols like he probably has emojis as an option that they could send him. That is all laid out in this ASCII table, depending on what kind of like depending on how it’s formatted.
Alex [00:12:53] But the idea is that he can now have every letter of the alphabet, all the numbers, punctuation marks, whatever he needs that they can send him. All he has to do is go through and he’ll see the camera turns like a six eight four zero two. And so these pairs, he can then take compare to the table and he can see O zero two is the letter C and then. Right.
Lacey [00:13:20] But that’s what I’m saying is instead of having you have 16 symbols instead of your normal. Yes.
[00:13:27] 16 symbols plus. Plus it’s all that was a question card.
Alex [00:13:30] Yeah. OK, so he will scratch them into the sand as he is watching the camera turn around and then he can take this undecipherable gibberish and go compare it to the ASCII table and turn it into letters and a message. Right. Yeah.
Lacey [00:13:49] Yeah, OK, I get it, it’s just real boring, so I’m glad that they didn’t go into it too much because I thought it was awesome and fascinating. I was I was actually way more interested in Cannes and how the Pathfinder was going to how they were going to actually communicate back and forth. Yeah, I like to the OK, the Pathfinder can talk to Earth, A.J. Journal, but this journal isn’t working. So how do we do this? And then getting the rover to have to work with the HAB instead. And I just I found like I found that all a lot more interesting than the ASCII table. Yeah. And I wanted to move on, which I did.
Alex [00:14:27] I did notice another thing that we’ve mentioned before. I really like the fact that, you know, Mark is clearly a genius in sort of the McGyver sense. But I really like the fact that he’s not always the one with every solution. And in this particular case, it was actually johannsson that had the ASCII table. Johannsson is the the computer specialists. She’s the software nerd on the team. And so she was the one who had this vital tool. He didn’t know it. He just he didn’t know it. But he he came up with the solution. He had the idea. Yes. But she was the one with the information that allowed him to do it. And I just I appreciate that even though the the crew of Aries three aren’t here, that they’re still contributing. You know, he’s still you still get the sense that it wasn’t sort of a one man mission to Mars. They were a whole bunch of really competent people here. And now he just has their stuff. But it still helps.
Alex [00:15:20] Yes, I have to say so.
Lacey [00:15:24] Going back to Earth. Yeah, yeah. Jack annoys the shit out of me. He’s the one who comes in and starts talking to Venkaiah and Ben. It’s like, dude, like I don’t care about all of these extra things and I’m just sitting here going, thank you, thank you, thank you. Be concise, get to the point and then get out. And there are nobody cares about this extra stuff. We’re trying to get Mark home and we don’t have to you know, you can’t act like you’re in an emergency for the next however many years he’s going to be there. But get to the point, we are actually on a mission right now. So I. I love Tim and I hate Jack.
Alex [00:16:04] Fair enough. So, yeah. And but his idea is brilliant, which is the software patch that will allow them to I mean, sure, you can be brilliant and still be hated.
Alex [00:16:18] All right, we’re going to be tiptoeing around Laci a little bit tonight.
Lacey [00:16:24] You don’t have to tiptoe around me. Just don’t be like Jack, be concise. Get to the point. You say that like it’s something I. He’s terrible, you guys. This is probably why I can’t handle it. And anybody else I like, I maxed out with me. Yeah. I just I’ve learned to have all sorts of patience with his.
Lacey [00:16:42] Talking and then, wow, I mean, everybody else, I’m like, OK, no, no, no, you get to the end. We will see. The way you feel about me is the way I feel about Jay Grape.
[00:16:54] Hey, you’re ridiculous.
Lacey [00:16:57] OK, so the other person I love is Annie is Annie.
Alex [00:17:02] Annie because they’re because they’re going to meet in the middle. They’re going to meet one of the greatest lines in this book. She’s talking about how some people are crawling up her ass and some people are looking at her throat and they’re going to meet in the middle Venkat.
[00:17:16] And that’s fantastic. I just I love her so much. The profanity, the power, the. She’s just she’s my kind of gal.
Alex [00:17:27] We’re going to get to the movie after we finished our read through. And so I’ve been trying to keep the movie references down. But that being said, Kristen Wiig was the absolute perfect casting, which is funny because I don’t remember it.
Lacey [00:17:38] I don’t remember her. I probably will once I start watching it. This is this is an ongoing thing, though. You guys like this is not putting anybody down. I do not remember books and movies after I’ve seen them.
Lacey [00:17:50] I just they kind of. Disappear because I think I read too fast. Yeah, or something, I don’t know, but I just don’t I don’t retain it. It’s not because of anybody’s performance socks or anything like that. Kristen Wiig is great. Yeah, OK. I, I, I have noticed.
Lacey [00:18:08] So this is this is true for me and all signs things. I don’t retain a lot of it. Like I’ll learn what it is and then I’m like, oh that makes sense. And then I just don’t keep it in my brain. You sort of verify but don’t store it. Yes. Well L in LCD stands for Liquid and I will absolutely retain that for the rest of my life. That is because he ruined the laptop because he. Yes. And his zero out of 10 consumer review had I was cackling. I just I appreciated that.
Alex [00:18:39] Yes, I, I really appreciated there’s a line that was one of those things. You know, there’s there’s a special category of knowledge, which is the stuff that you sort of knew but didn’t properly appreciate. You hadn’t actually stopped to think about it even though it was already in there. I really love that point that they make where they’re discussing whether or not to tell the rest of the Hermès crew about whether Mark is alive.
Alex [00:19:02] And the point that gets made is, you know, nobody’s focusing on it, but they’re actually in more danger than he is right now. You know, he’s stranded on Mars, but at least he’s on a planet there in space. And that’s scary. And that’s the argument that is made from not telling them yet. And that’s an interesting argument like that.
Lacey [00:19:22] I buy it, though, because he’s in. Ahab that could somehow get destroyed or like he’s doing everything on his own, he can’t last forever, whereas these people are in in yeah, he’s he’s definitely in more long term danger in terms of like, will this have survive until his four gets here and that sort of stuff. But in terms of the day to day basis is harder. Died more times than any of them have.
Lacey [00:19:57] I just like emotionally, I get where the argument part of the argument is, hey, this will put them in danger because their emotional state will get in the way of their work. And that is dangerous. Right. And I get that. But simultaneously, like.
Lacey [00:20:16] You don’t buy it. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it. And I and I guess it kind of. I get the I get that the argument is there, I just don’t I just don’t buy it I.
Alex [00:20:29] That being said, I think another person who doesn’t buy that is Mark Watney. And I love how much he won’t shut up about absolving his team. Yeah. That’s like a really it’s one of those things that sort of the writer didn’t need to do. Say it once. It’s not the crew’s fault. You’ve established that you can move on, but. This is a portent. It’s important to mark that no, seriously, it’s not their fault, and really driving that point home is is great and it takes us into Chapter 12.
Lacey [00:21:02] Well, we are. We are not done with Chapter 11 because we’re not done. Because why don’t you take us through the rest of Chapter 11?
Lacey [00:21:09] It’s it’s just this portion where he has like he he does this long message, right. That he’s sending back. And I’m not going to find it. But he’s already been told to watch his language because the world is reading what he’s writing. And at the end, the morning has been made. And how does he end this message?
Lacey [00:21:33] Look, a pair of boobs and then he does what does open parentheses, period, CAPPOTELLI Period, close parentheses. And I was just like, oh, you’re such a high schooler.
[00:21:44] But that’s funny. It’s so funny. That is that’s like it’s like, what are you going to do? He’s on Mars. Like, you’re going to come fire me, you know, you’re going to leave me here.
Lacey [00:21:55] So anyway, it’s just again, Andy Weir is so good at at bringing this character to life and keeping the humor alive for the sake of the audience. He could have taken this to such a dark place and reasonably, but he chose not to like and it’s more fun, not just reasonably, but that’s sort of like the the right way to do it.
Alex [00:22:18] And you’ve got a guy stranded on Mars. The way you do that, right, is to raise the stakes. You make it dramatic, you make it scary. And he went completely the other way. And it works.
Lacey [00:22:29] It does total death. I it’s it’s not following in falling into the stereotype. And I think that’s part of why this is such a standout story. All right.
Alex [00:22:40] Now, so in Chapter twelve, he’s absolving his crewmates, which takes us into Chapter 12, Chapter 12 again, shakes up the formula of this book, which is a lot of fun because all of a sudden it’s a flashback and it’s not a it’s not Mark Watney giving a dialog. It’s actually sort of a fictional third person narrative featuring Mark Watney. We flashback to the Aries three mission and the whole team is there on the ground. And we finally get to meet the Aries crew. And this is something that I had kind of forgotten because I you know, I’ve seen the movie. I’ve read the books before. It wasn’t really in the forefront of my mind that we hadn’t actually met them yet.
Lacey [00:23:20] Yeah, we think I was like, why are we doing this? Because in my head, I do have most of the crew members in my head as stand ins for these for these characters that we’ve like that we’ve heard about. Yeah. And so I I guess. I got really bored in this chapter because I was like, I already know all of this, so I don’t have very I have a couple of things. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.
Alex [00:23:46] I thought it was cool to go back to sort of plan A.. You know, to see how was this mission supposed to go and collect any rock samples. And they’re doing all this stuff. It was great to see their banter. Some of the some of the lines that get tossed back and forth between different characters are great and again, are perfectly captured in the film. And, yeah, it’s just it’s cool to see how this went down. Now, to be fair, The Synthesis is a show where we talk about scientific accuracy. And so it is necessary to bring it back around to Chapter one and talk about how this storm is impossible. This is the one thing in this story which is very grounded in real science. This is one thing that anywhere gave himself permission to just make it wrong.
Alex [00:24:29] Just go with it. Mars’s atmosphere is about half of a percent as thick as Earth’s atmosphere. You could get hurricane speed winds and you would not be able to feel it through your spacesuit like it might kick up some dust. There’s no air on Mars.
Alex [00:24:48] And so the like the kind of wind that they are experiencing is the kind of wind that would you would need to set off a nuclear bomb to get that kind of wind. It’s not realistic. That being said, it is dramatic. And I thought this chapter did a really good job of portraying a crisis. This is a scary situation and it’s a bunch of people who are very professional and very well-trained and very good at not freaking out. Yes, it’s scary.
Alex [00:25:18] And that really comes across. Nobody loses their cool. Nobody freaks out the way you would and, you know, some zombie movie. But you can tell the way people are handling things, the way they’re moving quickly.
Alex [00:25:30] And it’s this is high drama. Yes. Yeah. I will say that once.
Lacey [00:25:38] Mark Watney is out of the picture and we’re just following the rest of the crew actually super struggle with Commander Lewis really, and I’ll be interested to hear your take on it.
Lacey [00:25:48] But she took so much time looking for Mark that she put everybody else’s life lives in danger. And I struggled with that because her job is to get as many people off that planet as possible. And I recognize that when you become a family, you don’t want to leave anybody behind. But with information she had and and you know that the rest of your team is going to have a hard time following your orders to leave you behind, you are putting them all at risk of dying there because they don’t want to follow the commands because you are taking too long. And they keep telling her, like, you have to come back. The you know, it’s going to fall over. What is it called? The map. The map is going to it’s going to tip over and then they’re all screwed.
Alex [00:26:40] The idea is the map of you can picture it like a building or a tower and the wind is pushing it so that it’s starting to tilt. And they’ve calculated that if it goes past a 12 percent tilt, that’s the tipping point where it’ll just fall over another all stranded on Mars. So the risk is we have to get it before it starts tilting past 12 percent and it’s getting closer and closer and closer. And in fact, it actually goes past 12 percent and they have to use the thrusters to push it back up.
Alex [00:27:06] Right, right. And and and so to me, I feel like part of the commander’s job is to do a risk assessment.
Lacey [00:27:16] And so it was her job to not let the temptation of not following her orders happen at all. Yeah, and I know that means she spends less time looking for Mark, and that’s awful. But what would have been more awful is what would have happened if that if the map had fallen over. And so I really, really struggled with her decision.
Alex [00:27:39] You know, I I thought that that was human. Like, I thought that I thought it was believable because, you know, he gets knocked away. She doesn’t know if he’s dead. Like there’s a bio monitor reading that read zero. But, you know, there could still you could still resuscitate him, like there’s still hope. And she’s, you know, her. You said her job was to get as many people off of that planet as she could. Really her job was to get everyone off that planet and say that there’s a point at which you triage. But I thought that it was believable. And I do think she waited too long. Like if I was her boss when she got back to Earth, I would have been like you. That was not what you were supposed to do. But I thought it was very believable as a as a commander not wanting to leave someone behind.
Lacey [00:28:24] And I get that. I think I think it was very human, but I think that the. That the risk assessment of he he could be resuscitated versus how many people are going to die just by the massive falling over to me, there is a balance there that she did the math wrong. Yes. And I, I just I super struggled with it, especially because the team is struggling with it.
Lacey [00:28:54] And, you know, the yeah.
Alex [00:28:59] There’s a little bit of infighting between a couple of people on how we should handle this situation and should we even follow our order and.
Lacey [00:29:05] Exactly.
Lacey [00:29:06] And so anyway, I guess it’s totally it is worth mentioning that Beck is on your side. There is somebody on the crew who’s like, commander, you need to get in here. This is not how you should be handling the situation. And so it’s like it’s not you know, that’s that’s Commander Lewis’s mistake, not Andy Weir’s mistake.
Lacey [00:29:22] Yeah, exactly. Well, that’s and there’s a certain amount of OK, you’re you’re playing the hero. You said leave. She said to leave her behind, except for nobody wants to lose two people. Right. Because then somebody else is having to pull the trigger on that decision. And it’s your job as commander to be making the decisions that keep as many people alive as possible. So you’re kind of passing off this responsibility that I I struggled with it again, good writing, human choice, but I really struggled with I will say there’s a great moment that, you know, it’s one of those things that, like, if it hadn’t been there, it would have been fine.
Alex [00:29:58] But the fact that it is there is so great, which is that Mark Watney, who has not yet been stranded on Mars and has not yet had to learn how to make water and grow crops and all this kind of stuff, even during the storm, he’s suggesting solutions. He’s coming up with. He’s like, well, we could we could use the the cables to pull the MAV back up. Right. We could we could brace the MAV against MAV, against the wind. We could he’s coming up with all this stuff and his teammates, like, OK, man, like, you know, whatever. And they kind of move on. But it’s this little bit of sort of retro foreshadowing the character that we know well.
Lacey [00:30:30] And it also shows how he responds to stress. Yeah. His exact his reaction is not emotional. It’s very logical. And Problem-Solving. Yes. As a yeah. And some and I and I’ve watched that happen. I’ve done it before. I’ve seen other people do that. So again, it’s, you know, anywhere is just I guess one of my favorite writers and I think I didn’t notice that. Right.
Alex [00:30:53] Yes, there is. You know, we’ve talked a couple of times on the set. This is so far about sort of the alternate universes of the Martian, different ways that this could have gone and one of those alternate universes. That is very interesting. I’m sure there’s like some fan fiction out there that somebody has tackled. This premise is what would have happened if Mark Watney and Commander Lewis were stranded on Mars. The map takes off. They follow her orders, the map takes off, she goes back to the hab mark wakes up.
Lacey [00:31:22] I’d like to see him to the map. OK, see, I’m not particularly Fanfan. Yeah, I’m not particularly into fan fiction, but I would almost be interested in seeing someone do that because, you know, the potatoes aren’t going to last as long. Exactly. Things might go smoother, know just like what works and what doesn’t.
Alex [00:31:38] Having two hands on some of these problems might really help having somebody to bounce ideas off of. But at the same time, yeah, the food won’t last as long, you know. So, you know, when the airlock blew up, one of them probably would have died. Yeah, absolutely. Although I guess we haven’t gotten there yet. Oh, don’t don’t spoil. Sorry. I mean, it’ll be this episode, you know.
[00:31:59] OK, hold on. First of all, I want to say that I’m really into Eiman economist because we have the same person. Well, I mean, we’re on the same page. First of all, the not remembering the books and movies and whatever, like. Thank you. And also, you know, just it does I think that I think you make a great point about how it seems like he almost wants to be there more than anybody else. Everybody else is like, oh, crap, we’re going to die.
Lacey [00:32:28] And he’s like, let’s stay. Let’s make this work. It’s OK. So I thought that is that’s a really good point. Yeah, I hadn’t noticed. Excellent observation.
Alex [00:32:36] Yeah. So Commander Lewis does in fact come back into the have they take off. Everybody’s real sad obviously and then gentle sobbing. Yeah. It’s such a good job.
Alex [00:32:48] Like these are characters that we don’t even barely know. But he does such a good job with these little moments that tell you who they are. You know, Johannsson I think we’ve already established that Johannsson is hot. The Johannsson is like way prettier than your average is.
Lacey [00:33:03] Actually Hansen played by Kate Mara. Yeah, OK.
Alex [00:33:07] We’ve established that she’s particularly good looking. She’s she’s the only one who’s sobbing. But at the same time, like Beck is clearly a little more practical. He’s the one who was saying, Commander, you have to come in like, you know, my friend just died. And he’s the first one who’s willing to say that Mark is dead. Yeah. And, you know, they’re just these little nuggets that sort of give you a taste of who these different characters are. Yeah. So we flash forward now back to the present day and they’re finally telling them we’ve it’s this great moment where we keep when are we going to tell? When are we going to tell them? When are we going to tell them? And then we meet them. We see them.
Alex [00:33:43] We see how it happened. Now we’re going to tell them it’s great timing. I left I left him behind just like that’s when I just broke for Johanes or for Lewis because I was just like.
Lacey [00:34:00] You worked so hard, put and put everybody else at risk, and this is, you know, your worst fear wasn’t wrong.
Alex [00:34:10] Exactly was alive. He wasn’t dead. You left him behind.
Lacey [00:34:15] And it just there’s let’s everybody else, everybody else off the hook, too, because she’s like, you didn’t do it. You were following orders. I left him behind.
Alex [00:34:23] Yeah. And that is, you know, they they tell writers that, you know, every character is the star of their own story. And, you know, one of the marks of a good writer is that you can look at secondary characters and be like, oh, this story could have been about you. You know, it’s not this isn’t just James Bond where all the other characters in the movie are just sort of cardboard cutouts for him to play against. You know, when you look at a really good story, every character has their own desires and their own sort of struggles and that sort of thing. And that, to me, really jumped out as Commander Lewis is the star of her own story. There is a Commander Lewis movie happening in the background of The Martian, and she has a really powerful redemption arc because everybody is celebrating. And then she’s over here with her own motivations and just a writer who is capable of setting up a scene like that where everybody’s on the same page and then you realize that one of them isn’t there, having their own personalized response instead of the sort of group response.
Lacey [00:35:25] And what’s so beautiful about that is, is really we are all the stars of our own show. Like, that’s just kind of how we tend to live our lives. Yeah. And that doesn’t mean that we’re all egocentric or whatever. That’s just it’s hard to imagine everybody else’s motivations. And your reality is different than the person next to you, their reality. So I love that that is built into this story.
Alex [00:35:51] Yeah. Yeah. It’s just it’s so great she’s she’s responding the way she would. Yep. And that’s Chapter 12. So you found that boring?
Alex [00:36:02] I found that incredibly chaotic. I,.
Lacey [00:36:04] I did this start with purely because I mean I think I kind of wasn’t having it the night that I read these because I was real bored with part of Chapter 13. Yeah, that doesn’t stay true for very long. But I think it’s because it is the part of the movie that I remember is is the beginning is how it happened that he’s there. Yeah.
Alex [00:36:28] I as a bit of a synthesis back story, while Lacey was reading Chapter 13, I walked in, I was like, hey, how are you doing?
Alex [00:36:36] And she looks up from her book and she looks at me and goes.
Alex [00:36:41] I’m reading about fabric, and then she just went back to her book and I was like, OK.
Lacey [00:36:50] And then he got all, but he got a little excited about it. And I was like, because that fabric stuff is ominous as hell.
Alex [00:36:55] OK, so get their Chapter 13 again. The first note I have is ominous backstory. We start with the hab canvas was produced at a facility.
Lacey [00:37:08] What we do is that the first thing I think it is wrong, it’s the first thing I noted.
Lacey [00:37:13] OK, well, I noted about Mark getting pissy.
Lacey [00:37:18] OK, listen, listen. He’s in communication with Earth and he’s been he’s been desperately trying to do for four months.
Lacey [00:37:27] Exactly.
Lacey [00:37:28] And it’s just so human to get so annoyed with them so fast. I mean, he he calls them dipshits. And I cackled. I was out loud just yet cackling because it is so human to get just to do that 180. And I love it. I love that. It’s not like overly you know, it’s not too sentimental. It’s not like like they’re annoying me. But, you know, I’m glad that I get to even talk to them. No, he’s like he a different way. Yeah. I am the best botanist on this planet. Yeah. Like I don’t need you I don’t need you to tell me that I’m doing it right. Yeah. I fucking know.
Alex [00:38:08] I feel like this is one of those things that that is very plausible coming from an astronaut. You know, like not not everybody could make it through an astronaut program. I feel like astronaut programs like the they select for the kind of people who don’t want to be micromanaged, who are a little bit Hot Shots, are very confident in their own abilities. And so I like the I have a feeling that any astronaut who read this book would have been like, yes, that they check in to see when you go to the bathroom, go away, you know, leave me alone.
Lacey [00:38:41] Yeah, yeah.
Alex [00:38:43] But I’m ominous back story setting up something about the hab canvas. Weird. Like where was it manufactured and how was it manufactured and when was it inspected? And then we just intercut back to March and then we just got back to Mars. And hey Michael, what? He’s doing his thing. And we go around for a little while and then it comes back. The Hab canvas was loaded into the rocket and did it.
Lacey [00:39:03] It this is like this is where my mother would be like blah blah, blah, quote unquote. Yeah.
Alex [00:39:10] Um, she said to me this this recalls an old onion video that was released like ten years ago, which is Nation Panic’s as ominous music heard across the world.
Alex [00:39:24] It’s just about weird creepy music coming from nowhere and everybody freaking out because they feel like something’s coming. That’s how I feel about this. Like, why are you talking about the hab canvas, this incredibly important thing that is vital to our hero survival? Why are you drawing our attention to it repeatedly? You keep coming back to it. What is going on?
Lacey [00:39:45] The onion are probably tense. Kind of makes me think of stranger than fiction. Isn’t that the one where Will Ferrell is? Yes. Yes. His life starts being narrated. Yeah. By Emma Thompson.
Alex [00:39:55] He’s a character in a book and he can hear the narrator. Yeah, so he did. So he’s growing his crops. And there is a particularly funny mention that you will know if you ever saw a trailer for The Martian because it was in like all the trailers, which is that when you grow crops in a place, technically, you have colonized it. And so Mark Watney gets to be the guy who colonized Mars. Yes, which is interesting because that’s not the definition of like. Yeah, I wonder where that comes from, where that definition comes from. Because a colony, you know, one of the things that we sort of worked through a little bit in Terra Genesis is the word colony and colonies, because not only does it have a pretty sordid history in terms of the age of colonization and very sort. It has. Yeah, like what all that meant. But also it’s a specific legal term. You know, a colony is a thing that has a specific relationship to the mother country. And you, you know, not everything is a colony. And so that’s one of the things we wrestled with in Terra Genesis is, you know, the whole point of Terra Genesis is declaring independence, at which point you are no longer a colony.
[00:41:09] But even if it’s a mining outpost, doesn’t it have something to do with like with they’re already like being people there oftentimes.
Alex [00:41:16] Yeah. A colony is like a it’s I forget the technical definition, but it’s like it’s a group of people who are away from their mother country who don’t have any legal control over their own sort of well-being. So, for example, California is not a colony of the United States because California participates in the government of the United States. But, you know, there there’s sort of a point by point thing of what is a colony. And so I’m surprised that Andy Weir, who I trust, like presumably he put this in there because he found some definition, but I’ve never seen a definition that has to do with growing crops.
Lacey [00:41:51] So, yeah, well, and so I think I mean, I think the scientific community has come up with different words because because to go out onto other planets does, like you said, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re of colonizing it. So I think they’ve come up with I think they just you settled generally, which is kind of boring, if you ask me.
Alex [00:42:12] There are a few terms. Bill Nye and the Planetary Society likes to use subtle. I’m actually not that big a fan of settled because first off, it’s boring to settle literally means like to stop doing stuff.
Lacey [00:42:25] It feels very small just based on the way that we’ve kind of used it historically.
Alex [00:42:29] Yeah, a settlement is like you wouldn’t you wouldn’t say a settlement on Mars of one million people. Yes, it is only like a few dozen people.
Alex [00:42:37] But and then the other thing for me, and this is sort of a nit picky point, but I feel like it’s it will be important in the adoption of the term is it’s kind of ambiguous in certain ways. Settlement is the act of doing it, the settlement of Mars. But then a settlement is also the place. So if you talk about the settlement of Mars, are you talk about the act of colonizing it or are you talking about the colony on Mars, the settlement of Mars? So it’s you know, it just sort of it’s kind of hard to use, really, which is why in Terra Genesis, we ended up reviving a word that is very old and doesn’t really get used very much. But I think it’s sort of the best word. And I would very much like it if everybody would help spread it, because I would like to make an impact on the zeitgeist, which is harmonize to harmonize a place it is to bring humans to a place, to make a place suitable for humans. And in addition to just being right, that is a better description of what we are doing in space.
Alex [00:43:39] Wherever we go, we’re going to be bringing people. So whatever the legal definition of how that relates back to Earth is, you’re bringing people, you’re harmonizing it.
Lacey [00:43:47] What are the different forms that you use?
Alex [00:43:49] Which is the other thing that I really like about it is it’s very parallel to colonize, harmonize and colonize. You can have humanists just like colonists. You can have harmony just like a colony. It sort of fits the same kind of linguistic niche as colony. But it’s a better definition.
Lacey [00:44:09] It’s kind of definition and doesn’t have the the baggage.
Alex [00:44:13] Yeah, it does have the weight of history. You know, a lot of people, you know, if you go to a lot of places, but just to pick one, for example, India has a huge problem with the word colony because they were a colony.
Alex [00:44:23] And that’s a bad thing. They don’t want to be a colony. And so when you look at science fiction, worlds like The Expanse, if you went to Mars in the Expanse colony, would be a very dirty word because they had to declare independence from Earth. They are not a colony. And so if you talk about colonizing Mars, I have a feeling those Martians would have a strong objection.
Lacey [00:44:44] Yeah, so and people have often had that objection, you know, for for their various histories of their their ancestors and whatnot. So if I think back to the ancient Greek colonies. Right. Sort of never good to be a colony. Yeah. And to be colonized. So I think I think that there needs to be a better word. Yeah. I don’t know what he’d be the first. What’s the word. Instead of being the first colonists reharmonized monarch but the first commonest of Mars. Oh I like that c I like that better. Right.
Alex [00:45:15] OK, it just said, you know, the other thing is a lot of people like the word colonize, like they grew up with a sci fi, like we’re going to colonize Mars. I like the word colonize, but it’s again, it’s got bad history and it’s not legally right and so harmonized. Done so easy. Yeah, I harmonized Mars sold so spread the word harmonize. That’s the one. That’s the one we should be using. Yes. Let’s go with that. Next up, there’s a great little moment that made me laugh, even though it’s not actually that funny. But just like come on man, which is he talked about how he established a secondary communication system with NASA of placing rocks on the ground for Morse code because using rocks to do dots and dashes is a lot easier than using rocks to actually make like big old English letters. And he says hopefully it won’t come up. And I’m just sitting here going, Dude, have you been paying attention? It’s absolutely going to come up. This is again for the writers out there. This is something called Chekhov’s Gun, which is a principle in writing, which is that if you introduce something, you have to pay it off. If you introduce a gun in Act one, the gun has to go off by Act three. And so when Mark Watney says, hey, I’ve got this other system for communicating with NASA, just in case the Pathfinder breaks, hope I won’t have to use it.
Alex [00:46:34] That is absolutely Chekhov’s gun.
Alex [00:46:35] You’re going to have to use it, man, if you like. You jinxed it.
Lacey [00:46:41] Yeah, I felt like a lot of this chapter early on at least, is just getting everyone in contact and on the same page. So it’s like Lewis to want Watney to Lewis, NASA acknowledging that it is that it has more time to deal with things than expected because he has crops like it’s just it gets a bit boring. But I did find that the that the fabric interludes were bizarrely interesting because the rest of it was boring. And I kind of got mad about it cause the interludes are weird, but very specific. They’re very specific. I didn’t read as ominous for you. Well, of course. But like.
Lacey [00:47:26] Listen, there just I had some questions by the end of it that I was like, OK, so we’re going to jump a little bit ahead just because it’s all about the fabric. Why, why, why? Why would you put it on a plane specifically just like this and store it just like this? And then you’re going to take the plane up even higher than you normally would because you want it to have, you know, the the smoothest flight possible.
Lacey [00:47:52] And then you’re going to take it through there, getting through multiple atmospheres. And it’s not smooth at all. Like, it’s it’s totally I think it’s just minimizing risk.
Alex [00:48:04] It’s going to have to go through those two atmospheres anyway. So let’s minimize whatever we can, you know.
Alex [00:48:12] Lacey’s not having it. I’m not having it, I don’t this is going to be the closest she’s not having. That’s our new tagline. I don’t buy it. I think that’s what it is.
Alex [00:48:21] There was a moment that I really enjoyed which or rather I would have enjoyed. He didn’t go there, but I feel like it was interesting. It would have been interesting if he had, which is he talks about how he’s got potatoes now.
Alex [00:48:34] He’s growing potatoes. He has food that he has grown himself and not just potatoes for replanting. He actually has now potatoes for eating. And he talks about how am I going to store them because, you know, I’m not going to need him for a while and I don’t want them to rot. And the answer is, you just throw him outside because Mars is going to suck all the water out of them instantly.
Alex [00:48:54] And the whole planet is one giant freezer. So you just throw them out the door and that’s where he keeps his potatoes, presumably just in like a big pile out by the airlock so that he’s going to have dried potatoes. So he’s going to yeah, it’s going to be dry, but they’re going to be preserved. They’re not going to rot, which is great, but very dusty. Like we’ve already established this. This is a world where he has to go out every couple of days and blow dust off of the the solar panels. And he don’t want to eat that dust and you don’t want to eat that dust. And so you have to wash that, by the way, radioactive dust. And so, yeah, I’m kind of surprised that any weird didn’t go into, like, you’re eating, OK, you’ve got potatoes, but they’re covered in red Martian dust. Like he doesn’t I don’t think he has like a faucet, like a kitchen sink. But, you know, like I wish they had gone into that. That’s the kind of thing that he does go into a lot in this.
Lacey [00:49:44] Yeah. So then you notice that it’s missing some of that detail. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah.
Lacey [00:49:49] I just want to say one more listen, just one more thing about that, that fabric thing with the with the plane and the and the atmospheres and all of this stuff. OK, see, this is why it doesn’t make sense to me because it’s like it’s like you’re giving a baby a bath and you’re gently sudsing it. Right. Just imagine this and then you throw the baby out the window with the bath water like it doesn’t make sense. Why would you treat it like this perfect, precious little baby and then just throw it out the window because they didn’t throw it out the window?
Lacey [00:50:23] This was this.
Alex [00:50:24] They did they did everything they could to protect it, recognizing that they can’t do everything, recognizing that it’s going to turn into a teenager someday.
Alex [00:50:33] That’s some weird hot canvas, but OK, I’m just saying it just it seems bizarre to be so over the course of the episodes that we’ve been reading The Martian, we’ve established a number of things that Mark Watney is Mark Watney is a genius. Mark Watney is very upbeat. Mark Watney is the greatest botanist on Mars. But now in Chapter 13, we have definitively established one thing that Mark Watney is not, and that is the urinating champion of all time.
Alex [00:51:04] And that made me laugh so hard, I know I’m not the urinating champion of all time, he’s talking about water usage and how much water is getting sucked up by the water reclaimer. And he says, no, I’m not the urinating champion of all time. And I got flashed into my head like an Olympic stadium, urinating competition. And a whole thing sort of flashed through my mind in an instant. And it was thoroughly hilarious.
Lacey [00:51:31] I so I and I don’t even remember it. So I’m I am more taken by his expletives. So. Yeah, because again, your girl loves expletives. Yes. Yes, she fucking does. Huh.
Alex [00:51:47] So coming back around to the dust on the potatoes and that kind of little nitty gritty thing, he actually does do one thing which I really appreciated, which is maintenance on the water reclaimer. Turns out that the efficiency has been dropping and he wants to repair it. And NASA’s like, no, you’re going to kill yourself. And so he does it anyway.
Lacey [00:52:05] Yeah, just to be ornery, I think I think what’s interesting is in this chapter, we get Mark’s new perspective on what is life threatening and what is not. And that is a fact that’s it’s fascinating that we’re managed to anticipate that psychological change, because when you are in the used to it. Yeah. If you are going to be in a long term, high risk situation, your idea of what is worth being concerned about is going to change. Absolutely. And so I just I think I might be in love with Andy Weir’s brain. And so I need to check in with him and see if he’ll be my plan B.
Alex [00:52:55] All right. Well, you heard it here first. My wife is leaving me for Andy Weir.
Lacey [00:53:00] No, not not not really. Just just if it’s an option, if you have to in the future. Yeah.
Alex [00:53:09] So throughout Chapter 13, we’ve been establishing hab canvas where it was produced, where it was inspected, how it was shipped to Mars, how it was thrown out with a baby and grew up into a teenager.
Alex [00:53:20] And now at the end of the chapter. We see why.
Lacey [00:53:25] OK, but you hold in, OK, go ahead, we can jump back. Do your thing.
Alex [00:53:31] That was that was my big sting, OK, commercial break, we’re going to come back now, we’re going to do your your stuff and then we’ll get to the payoff later. Oh, OK.
Lacey [00:53:39] I just it’s about the water reclaimer, OK? It’s all of that stuff because he says that he talks about why he’s being adversarial and that, you know, and what NASA looks for and astronauts, kind of like you said before, is independence. And if he was afraid of touching everything or literally anything, he wouldn’t be alive. So I love that he wouldn’t go against his orders from Lewis, but he will absolutely flout the requests of NASA bureaucrats. And I just I want to be like, Mark, when I grow up and have that sort of confidence to just be like, no, I’m no, I’m not going I’m not going to wait on you. You’re doing it stupid because you don’t understand what is life threatening and what is not because you’re not here. And, you know, he’s the expert. So, I mean, not on waterer claimers, obviously, but, you know, the water reclaimer story is another great moment of we’re going, OK, what would go wrong? And let’s go through the details of it. OK, we’re going to take it. And he’s going to mark every single piece. And he’s doing he knows it’s probably a clog. It is mineral water. OK, that’s smart. Like, it’s that is such a normal thing. Yeah. And I, I loved going through the detail of that. I loved the emotional reaction he has to NASA and the screw you guys. I’m going to do what I want and I don’t know, just, um. I like that NASA called them a dick. Yeah, that’s maybe one of my favorite things, because probably not all of NASA’s messages are being read and so they can do that.
Lacey [00:55:30] So anyway, onto the fabric.
Alex [00:55:33] Yes. So it’s worth revisiting here. The hab in the world of the Martian is not the way it’s often pictured in a lot of science fiction stories. Oftentimes, haboobs on Mars are depicted as buildings. They’re sort of built off of the same model as the International Space Station. They’ve got the white walls and sort of steel beams wrapping around, you know, often some kind of cylindrical kind of thing with a little hatch doorway sticking out.
Alex [00:56:02] And that’s not what we have here over and over and over. We are reminded that the hab is basically a tent. The Hab is made of canvas. It’s something that ripples during the storm. It’s not a rigid structure.
Lacey [00:56:15] Thus he is in more danger than the rest of the crew.
Alex [00:56:20] So the hab is something that can, for example, deflate. And we’ve been following this hab canvas throughout its life cycle. And now Mark Watney steps into the airlock and pressurizes it and it explodes. And the way it is described was so just like breathtaking in sort of the literal sense and just this like kind of like, oh my God, it just becomes a cannon, the whole thing.
Alex [00:56:55] You can just picture the cylinder sticking off of a sort of Half Dome tent and all of a sudden it just becomes a cannon. And the full force of the atmosphere in this building launches the cylinder and he’s inside. Just as it rolls across, the landscape finally comes to a stop.
Alex [00:57:14] And he’s just like, are you fucking kidding me? Just when everything was starting, he was starting to get a handle on it and the whole hab explodes. And that’s where we end.
Lacey [00:57:26] And Chapter 13, that’s when I was like, oh, remember when I said the fabric was marginally interesting because the rest of the chapter is really effing boring? Well, a way to prove me wrong.
Lacey [00:57:36] Wier, you jerk. Seriously, so much for being my plan B.
Alex [00:57:42] Sorry, Andy. She’s breaking up.
Lacey [00:57:45] I just do 180s left and right. I don’t want to be with me. So that is it for this episode of The Synthesis.
Alex [00:57:52] Next week we’re going to be picking up with the next three or four chapters of The Martian and taking it from here, seeing how do you what do you do when you’re hab blows up on Mars?
Lacey [00:58:04] What do you do when you’re Mark and not everybody else? Yeah, because that those are two different answers, probably.
Alex [00:58:11] I mean, we all know that, for example, Jacob would probably just die as he should. Oh, my good. I mean, we can I hope at least you’re a jerk.
Lacey [00:58:21] I have.
Alex [00:58:23] Listen, there’s only room for one jerk in this relationship, and it is absolutely Jacob. I was going to say it was Tim. But whatever Tim and Jacob, you know, Tim probably is Jacob. Like, this just seems like the kind of like that’s probably. Yeah, dumb. All right. So that’s it for this episode of The Synthesis.
Alex [00:58:43] Tune in next week. We’re going to be here on Thursday, as usual, and we really mirroring it to YouTube. So if you’re watching us there, be sure to subscribe and hit the bell. So you’re notified about new episodes? Yes. Last thing worth mentioning is Imageworks Entertainment has a new show on YouTube, so be sure to check it out. It’s called Slice of Science. It’s a one to two minute series of just cool little facts about space and science that you may not have known about. Animated with some really cool animations by Tarnya, who works here at edX Works Entertainment.
Lacey [00:59:14] And she’s so excited that they’re out. Yes, because she’s been working on this on these for ages, ages. And so we’re super proud of her two episodes out.
Alex [00:59:24] And they are, I think, the most popular videos that we have released on YouTube so far.
Alex [00:59:28] So definitely not nearly as popular as Tony. Heartbreaking. So check out slice of science knife falls on YouTube. Subscribe and hit the bell and tune in next week.
Lacey [00:59:45] OK, bye.