Andy Weir travelled a rare road to stardom. He wrote The Martian, a science-rich survival tale of an astronaut left behind on Mars, and then gave it away for free online. More than a few loved it so he self-published the story as an Amazon kindle book for 99 cents. That’s when Weir’s work achieved liftoff. He scored a major book deal, hit the New York Times bestseller list, and now director Ridley Scott and actor Mat Damon have produced a big-budget screen version of the story. Weir is a busy man this month but took the time to share some thoughts on space exploration and storytelling.
The Martian is a deeply inspiring story. What inspired you to write it?
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.
Short of another Cold War, what will it take to recapture the enthusiasm of the Apollo era and get the general public excited about space?
I think it'll come down to economics. Eventually, technology will drive down the cost of putting things into Earth orbit. Once that cost gets low enough, mankind's natural desire to expand and explore will take it from there.
Mark Watney is a likeable wise-ass who finds unconventional ways to get things done. How much of you is in him?
Mark is based on my own personality. Though he’s smarter and braver than I am and he doesn’t have my flaws. I guess he’s what I wish I were like.
There has been some talk about The Martian, book and film, possibly sparking a science boom and getting more kids to aim for careers in science. What are your feelings about this?
If it has that effect, that's great. But I never have a purpose to my writing other than to entertain the reader. No moral, no message, nothing like that.
Your book is remarkably accurate with the details and makes it clear that placing people on Mars won’t be easy. In light of the challenges, how likely do you think it is that we will establish a permanent human presence on Mars within the next fifty to eighty years?
A permanent presence? Extremely unlikely in the timeframe you specify. But a manned mission is very plausible.
Why does science fiction matter? What does it add to human culture?
To me, the sole purpose of fiction is to entertain. When it tries to do anything else, I usually don't enjoy it. I don't like being preached at. So when I write, I write to entertain and nothing else. Sci-Fi is useful in that it causes people to imagine a better world, but the goal of a sci-fi book should be, in my opinion, to make the reader enjoy themselves.
Visit Andy Weir’s website for more information about his work. Guy P. Harrison is the author of six books, including Good Thinking: What you need to know to be smarter, safer, wealthier, and wiser