About the Book

Book Protagonist: Mark Watney
Publication Date: 2011
Genre: Action and Adventure, Science Fiction

Historical Context

The Martian

By Andy Weir

'The Martian' is an American novel published in 2015 by Andy Weir. At the time the book was published Weir was a little-known author who had published short stories and comics. 

Today, Weir is a New York Times Best-selling author, and his books are read around the world. Below, readers can explore the various contexts that informed The Martian.’ This includes the history of space exploration and the history of the science fiction genre. 

The Martian Historical Context 

Literary Context 

As a contemporary science fiction novel, ‘The Martian’ has a long and rich history behind it. The genre dates back to the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818. It was expanded by authors like Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and more. As the genre progressed, authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke flourished. Robert Heinlein’s A Stranger From a Strange Land is a landmark novel in the genre. 

This famed science fiction novel told the story of a man born during a Mars mission and left on Mars after his parents, astronauts, both died. He was raised by Martians and then returned to Earth to learn about his home. 

The Martian is an example of “hard” science fiction in that it is focused more on the science part of the genre than any social implications, as “soft” science fiction is. 

Publication History 

The novel was first published in serial form on Andy Weir’s website. It was available for free, as his other literary works at the time were. After demand grew, readers suggested that he make it available as an Amazon Kindle book for 99 cents. He did so, and it caught the attention of a publishing house, Random House Book’s Crown Publishing imprint. It premiered at #12 on the New York Times Bestseller list and eventually became #1. 

Historical Context 

The Martian was published in 2015 but took place in a universe where several Mars missions have occurred, and NASA has funding to complete more. It’s unclear when exactly the novel is taking place, year-wise, but much of what Watney accomplishes is scientifically plausible by today’s standards. 

The novel was informed by historical space exploration, dating to the first successful moonwalk in 1969 by Neil Armstrong. Weir spent a great deal of time studying everything from botany to space travel to ensure that the novel is as realistic as possible. He would have been well aware of NASA’s history, including the first unmanned missions to Mars. The first was Mariner 3, the first attempt to orbit Mars, which failed in 1964. It was followed by several more Mariners, all of which were successful. These orbiters sent back photographs of the planet’s surface and important data. 

Viking 1 and 2 were unnamed probes that landed on Mars in the 1980s and sent back even more data, all of which informed NASA and the general public about the planet. More recently, Mars Exploration Rovers landed in 2004 and 2018, returning surface data to Earth. The Opportunity rover landed on one side of the planet and the Spirit Rover on the other. The former features in The Martian. Towards the end of the novel, when the character Mark Watney is almost to the MAV, he is tempted to detour the Opportunity to use its systems to communicate with Earth. 

In 2012, the Curiosity rover determined that Mars was at one point capable of supporting life. This historical moment may have played a part in inspiring Weir to write The Martian. 

Throughout the novel, readers can find references to the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1972 and the Apollo astronauts more broadly. Watney refers to how “cool” they were. In comparison to the equipment Watney has available. The Apollo astronauts had nothing. He also references the 1997 Pathfinder mission, an unmanned probe that landed on Mars and played an integral part in the novel. 


Is Mark Watney a natural person? 

Mark Watney is not a real person. But, when writing the novel, Weir was inspired by other space missions and used realistic details to make him feel like a natural person. 

Is The Martian based on a true story?

The Martian is not based on a true story, although it does reference real Mars and Moon missions. This includes prices since to Mars, like Pathfinder, and the Apollo missions to the Moon.

Why did Andy Weir write The Martian?

When Andy Weir wrote The Martian, he initially published it as a serial. When speaking about the book, he said that he wanted to “write a serial that had tons of maths, show your work, all that stuff. I still have no idea why it has mainstream appeal. I guess people liked the snarkiness of the main character.”

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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