Andy Weir was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel.
Shauna Kosoris: The Martian is a very science-heavy science fiction book. How long did it take you to research it?
Andy Weir: That’s hard to quantify, because I did the research while I was writing. It took me three years to write the book, and a large percentage of that was spent doing math and research.
What was the most interesting fact you discovered while researching?
Mars’s moon Phobos orbits the planet faster than the planet rotates. So even though Mars’s two moons go around the planet the same direction, if you’re on the ground they appear to be going opposite directions. Deimos goes East to West and Phobos goes West to East.
Very cool! Mark Watney, the main character in The Martian, has a rather impressive skill set, being the Ares 3 engineer and botanist. Did you know early on that he would have these roles?
Yes, I picked those skills early on because I knew they’d be critical to his survival.
They definitely were. I doubt that most of us would be able to do half of what he does! In interviews, you’ve said The Martian started out as you planning a manned mission to Mars. Have you ever made plans for manned missions to other astronomical objects?
Oh sure. I think about how to get to the moon all the time. I did a lot of research on lunar cyclers and they’re pretty interesting.
The Martian was originally a free serial on your website. How did you end up getting your publishing contract?
Originally the book was just a serial I posted a chapter at a time to my website. Once the book was done, people started requesting that I make an e-book version so they didn’t have to read it in a web browser. So I did and posted it to my site. Then other people emailed saying they want to read the e-book, but they aren’t technically savvy and don’t know how to download a file from the internet and put it on their e-reader. They requested I make a Kindle version they could just get through Amazon. So I did that as well. I set the price at Amazon’s minimum allowable price of $0.99. More people bought the book from Amazon than downloaded it for free from my website. Amazon has a truly amazing reach into the readership market.
The book sold very well and made its way up various top-seller lists on Amazon. That got the attention of Julian Pavia at Crown. He told his colleague David Fugate (a literary agent) about it. David ended up becoming my agent and Julian offered me a book deal. It was a whirlwind of activity because 20th Century Fox optioned the movie rights that same week.
Congratulations on all of that – I can’t wait to see the movie this October. So what’s next for you?
I’m working on my next book now. It’s a more traditional sci-fi novel with aliens, faster-than-light travel, and telepaths, etc. It’s tentatively titled Zhek and it should be out in mid-2016
Why the switch from hard science fiction?
I had a hard sci-fi story in mind and I pitched it to the publisher, but they didn’t think it was any good. It’s a cool setting, but there’s not enough plot. So I pitched Zhek and they liked it.
Fair enough. What book or author inspired you to write?
My main inspirations are Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
I highly recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
I’ve heard great things about Cline’s book; I’ll have to check it out. Finally, what are you currently reading?
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell