The chapter opens with another flashback, an italicized passage describing how workers at Deyo Plastics are working double shifts to make the Hab canvas for Ares 3.
Weir’s technique of shifting narrators and narrative structure keeps the reader engaged throughout the novel and builds a sense of intrigue.
Sol 114. Watney complains that NASA is micromanaging his work on Mars. However, Watney enjoys reading emails from friends, family, and members of the public. Watney says he’s reread his email from his mother over and over, even though she doesn’t say anything too surprising. After writing this, he’s quick to add that he’s “not a mama’s boy” and “totally manly.” Watney also informs us that he’s learning Morse code and that the Ares 4 rescue plan is going great.
Watney’s frustration with NASA’s bureaucracy shows that making contact with NASA comes with both disadvantages and advantages. Watney’s self-consciousness about reading and rereading his mother’s letter shows how concerned he is with appearing unemotional and thereby “manly,” even when it’s clear that an emotional reaction is completely reasonable.
Weir includes another italicized flashback explaining another step in the process of making Hab canvas. In his Sol 114 entry, Watney writes that he has enough food to last to Sol 900, and that NASA is working on a supply probe that will arrive around Sol 856. In an email exchange, Lewis blames herself for Watney’s situation. Watney replies saying that Lewis did the right thing. Another italicized flashback shows the finished Hab Canvas being flown to JPL.
The purpose of the italicized flashbacks is to build suspense. Lewis’s email exchange with Watney shows that Lewis is agonizing over the realization that she left Watney behind on Mars. Watney’s response once again shows his compassion and utter lack of resentment towards Lewis and the crew.
Sol 116. Watney harvests, freezes, and stores his potatoes. Watney receives an email from Venkat advising him to listen to NASA’s advice on botany, denying a request for non-disco music files, and informing him that NASA is starting an investigation to see if any avoidable mistakes led to his being stranded. Watney writes back to Venkat insulting the members of the investigation and stating that he will refute any blame placed on Lewis.
Watney’s email exchange with Venkat indicates that Watney resents bureaucratic oversight and has been pushing back against NASA’s micro-managing advice. His hostility toward NASA’s investigation into his abandonment on Mars shows he truly doesn’t blame Lewis for what happened and remains fiercely loyal to her.
In an italicized flashback, the Ares 3 pre-supply probe (carrying the Hab canvas) reaches Mars safely. On Sol 117, Watney writes that the water reclaimer is slowing down. He’s not too concerned, but NASA is very worried. Watney is frustrated by how they are micromanaging his efforts to repair the water reclaimer. In another italicized flashback, Lewis and Beck successfully set up the Hab. On Sol 118 NASA denies Watney’s request to take apart the water reclaimer and check for a clog. He takes it apart anyway, finds a clog, and fixes it. In an italicized passage, the third person narrator explains that the windstorm that led the Ares 3 crew to leave Mars weakened the Hab canvas. Every time Watney leaves through Airlock 1, the canvas stretches and tightens, weakening a bit more.
Weir once again uses an italicized flashback to bring the reader’s attention to the Hab canvas, but it’s not yet clear why the canvas’ journey to Mars and its initial setup are so important. Watney’s successful water reclaimer repair vindicates his conviction that NASA’s micromanaging is unnecessary. This is also one of the few times he deliberately disobeys NASA orders. The next italicized passage makes clear why Weir is emphasizing the Hab canvas’s importance: it’s slowly weakening, and Watney, like the reader, has been taking its strength for granted.
Sol 119. A minor sandstorm hit the Hab the previous night. Watney gets ready to clean sand off of the solar cells, and as he does so, he reminisces about shoveling snow with his father when he was growing up in Chicago. The story shifts to third person narration. As Watney exits through Airlock 1, the Hab canvas breaches, and the Airlock is torn from the rest of the Hab. The faceplate of Watney’s space suit shatters—it will no longer effectively supply him with oxygen. He hears a hissing sound—the airlock has a small breach and is slowly leaking air.
Watney’s memory of shoveling snow with his father gives us a rare glimpse of Watney’s past back on Earth. He rarely mentions his family, but it seems he misses them. By comparing shoveling Martian sand to shoveling snow in Chicago, Watney makes the activity seem like a safe, humdrum routine. Because of this, it’s more shocking when the Hab breaches, creating a sudden, life-threatening crisis.