> Skip to content

Q&A  •  22 July 2016

 

A conversation with Andy Weir

The Martian author comes clean on his sci-fi publishing phenomenon.

You list space travel, orbital dynamics, relativistic physics, astronomy, and the history of manned spaceflight among your interests. How did you incorporate these passions into your debut novel, The Martian?
Those interests allowed me to come up with the story in the first place. I love reading up on current space research. At some point I came up with the idea of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The more I worked on it, the more I realized I had accidentally spent my life researching for this story. Early on, I decided that I would be as scientifically accurate as possible. To a nerd like me, working out all the math and physics for Mark’s problems and solutions was fun.

Explain how the science in The Martian is true to life.
The basic structure of the Mars program in the book is very similar to a plan called ‘Mars Direct’ (though I made changes here and there). It’s the most likely way that we will have our first Mars mission in real life. All the facts about Mars are accurate, as well as the physics of space travel the story presents. I even calculated the various orbital paths involved in the story, which required me to write my own software to track constant-thrust trajectories.

What inspired you to write The Martian?
I was thinking about how best to do a manned Mars mission. As the plan got more detailed, I started imagining what it would be like for the astronauts. Naturally, when designing a mission, you think up disaster scenarios and how likely the crew would be to survive. That’s when I started to realize this had real story potential.

Are you an advocate for a manned mission to Mars? Are you hopeful we’ll actually make it out there sometime soon?
Of course I’m a huge fan of space travel, manned and unmanned. I would love to see people land on Mars in my lifetime. However, do I think it will actually happen? I’m not sure. Unlike the 1960s, we’re not in a race with anyone to get there, so it’s not a priority. Also, computer and robotics technologies are leaps and bounds better than they were during the days of Apollo. So, logically, you have to ask why we would risk human lives rather than just make better robots. Still, it would be awesome, and maybe that’s reason enough.

Do you have anything in common with your wise-cracking hero Mark Watney?
I’m the same level of smart-ass as he is. It was a really easy book to write; I just had him say what I would say. However, he’s smarter than I am and considerably more brave.

How long do you think you’d last if you were left in Mark Watney’s position?
Not long at all. I don’t know how to grow crops, nor how to jury-rig the solutions he came up with. It’s a lot easier to write about an ordeal than it is to experience it.

You have the chance to meet any astronaut living or dead: Who is it and why?
John Young. He is the quintessential astronaut. Competent, fearless, highly intelligent, and seemingly immune to stress. When Apollo 16 launched, his heart rate never got higher than 70. Most astronauts spike to at least 120 during launches.

How did you feel when your original, self-published version of The Martian became a phenomenon online? Were you expecting the overwhelmingly positive reception the book received?
I had no idea it was going to do so well. The story had been available for free on my website for months, and I assumed anyone who wanted to read it had already read it. A few readers had requested I post a Kindle version because it’s easier to download that way. So I went ahead and did it, setting the price to the minimum Amazon would allow. As it sold more and more copies, I just watched in awe.

Did you ever imagine in a million years your self-published book would become a major motion picture? What was your reaction when you first heard the news? How did you feel when you saw that first movie trailer hit the Internet?
Obviously, I’m thrilled about it! I daydreamed about The Martian becoming a movie someday, but I didn’t take the concept seriously. Even when Fox optioned the rights, I figured they were just making a minor speculative investment. Then the big names started to get involved and it suddenly got more real. Next thing I knew, they had a top-notch cast and one of the greatest directors of all time [Ridley Scott] on the project. Every part of this publishing experience has been a dream come true!

You’re stranded on Mars and you can take only one book with you. What is it?
It’s always hard to pick one ‘favorite book.’ Growing up, I loved early Heinlein books most of all. So if I had to pick one, I’d go with Tunnel in the Sky. I do love a good survival story.

This is a selection of questions taken from bonus material included in the Young Readers Edition of Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Feature Title

The Martian
A Young Readers Edition of the Number 1 Sunday Times bestselling phenomenon.
Read more

More features

See all
Article
What to read next based on your favourite type of potato

Love books? Love potatoes? Find your next read here.

Q&A
A day in the life of Senior Designer, Olivia Mead

Learn what a day in the life of a senior designer at Penguin Random House looks like.

Q&A
Tobias Madden shares the inspiration behind his new novel, Wrong Answers Only

We caught up with Tobias Madden to learn about his new novel, Wrong Answers Only. Plus, discover his secrets for tapping into your creativity and his top tips for aspiring authors.

Q&A
Georgia Harper says she ‘ruined her mum’s fantasy’

Find out why Georgia Harper’s writing routine ruined her mum’s idyllic vision of a writerly life. Plus, learn about her love for Anne Rice and her unlucky skill for attracting strangers’ stories.

Q&A
Fun Fact: Sarah-Jane Collins wrote much of her debut novel in a bar

Sarah-Jane Collins shares how her background as a reporter inspired her to write her debut novel, Radiant Heat.

Q&A
Gareth Brown shares how a yearning to travel inspired The Book of Doors

Plus find out why he’d choose to live in Middle Earth and main difference between him and Hugh Jackman.

Q&A
How the characters from Abbey Lay’s Lead Us Not came to her in an imagined conversation

The debut author also shares the fictional character she’d most like to meet and why she loved Lemony Snicket’s writing as a child.

Q&A
Ferdia Lennon shares the Plutarch passage that inspired Glorious Exploits

Plus, find out why he taught himself to memorise an entire deck of cards while researching for the novel.

Q&A
How drama school inspired Chris MacDonald to write The Actor

Plus, learn about which fictional character he’d like to dine with and the musician he always turns to when singing karaoke.

Q&A
Lottie Hazell shares how she came up with the idea for Piglet

Plus, the cosy fictional world she’d most like to live in.

Q&A
Jessica Bull shares how she entered Jane Austen’s world while writing her debut novel

She took up a few new hobbies, including horseback riding, sewing and Georgian dance.

Q&A
An interview with Ela Lee about her debut novel, Jaded

We caught up with debut author Ela Lee to learn about how she made time for writing while working full-time, her ‘big break’ into publishing and more.

Looking for more Q&As?

See all Q&As