Thank you for following this journey with me of interviewing some of the world’s most creative and unique science writers. This week marks the last week for these blog cast interviews, HOWEVER, all of the interviews will be released as podcast episodes in my new podcast under the same name, From the Biblio-Files. If listening to podcasts is easier for you, this blogcast will become a treat to revisit old interviews from some of the most talented writers the world has to offer.
Before switching this blogcast over to a podcast, there is one more interview I want to highlight, one with extremely popular science fiction writer Andy Weir. Andy is the author of The Martian, a science fiction book about an astronaut who gets trapped on Mars and has to survive there for four-ish years before he can be rescued. Andy\’s writing not only highlights the science behind what it would take to survive on an alien planet but also the incredible detail and struggle for human survival. Since its publication, The Martian has become a best-seller and was even turned into a movie, starring Matt Damon! You can get a copy of the book here, for your own reading!
In having a pseudo-interview with Andy (over email), I was struck by how detail-oriented he was, as well as passionate about his work. The Martian began as a serial blog, where Andy would publish bits of the story sequentially until it was published as a book. The book helped to shift the way science fiction was being read, as Andy’s work was extremely realistic and contained actual science, not just fictional tropes such as aliens. The Martian helped to change how science fiction was seen and enjoyed by the public. You can read his full interview below for more information about how Andy worked on this piece of incredible science fiction.
K: When did you first become interested in Science Fiction?
A: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t into sci-fi. I guess it comes from being raised by a physicist and an electrical engineer. I was doomed to be a nerd from day one.
K: Did any early studies in the science in childhood, high school, or college influence the direction of your writing?
A: I’m sure they did. Though the interest was already there. I never had to be nudged toward science. I went running to it from the beginning.
K: In the Martian, there are a lot of mathematical principles, ideas, and equations used to forward the plot as well as give credence to the science within the book. Did you use a mathematical background to write these mathematical ideas, or was your process of infusing math into the book more amateur-research-based?
A: Well, I’m certainly not a professional mathematician. But I have more than a layman’s knowledge. I definitely did a ton of research for the novel. Though the math itself wasn’t that hard for me. The other disciplines – especially chemistry – were the hardest for me.
K: What writers influenced the most you as you were beginning your writing career?
A: Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke.
K: What inspired you to begin writing The Martian? And why a serial blog?
A: I was imagining a manned Mars mission, putting it together in my mind. Naturally, you have to account for failure scenarios and have plans for what the crew could do. I realized those failure scenarios made for a pretty interesting story.
I did it as a serial blog because I had given up on being a professional writer by that time. I was just writing for fun, and I liked getting feedback on every chapter.
K: What was the process like for researching the science behind The Martian? Did you speak to any scientists?
A: The research effort ended up being tons and tons of Google searches and a bunch of math. I didn’t know anyone in aerospace at the time I wrote the novel, so I was on my own. But I like researching, it’s fun for me. So it wasn’t a problem.
K: Did you think your work would have this much impact on the science fiction genre or how people view science fiction in general?
A: Not at all. When I wrote “The Martian”, I thought I was writing it for a very tiny niche audience of hardcore nerds who wanted to see all the math and science completely described. I had no idea it would have mainstream appeal.
K: How do you think The Martian has impacted how people see astronomy, astrophysics, NASA, or other space-related science fields and ideas?
A: Oh, I don’t think it impacted the sciences at all. It’s just a (hopefully fun) fictional story.
K: What was the process like of developing your book into a popular film?
A: Mostly my job was just to cash the check. Though they did send me the screenplay to get my opinion. They weren’t required to listen to anything I had to say. They kept me updated on the production because they’re cool. And in the end, the film is very true to the book, so I\’m happy.
K: How do you feel about how science is communicated to the general public in the media?
A: Any communication is better than none. But I do often feel like the media doesn’t quite report things correctly. Not because of bias, but because they don’t do enough to understand the subject material or they don’t consult scientists with opposing opinions to the scientific claim that is the news story.