Recently I posted a piece about seeing Neil deGrassse Tyson live. During his lecture titled “An Astrophysicist Goes To The Movies“, he excitedly presented the preview for the new Matt Damon movie, The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott. I found it especially timely since I’d been listening to the Audible book on my travels for the last week. With one of the funniest and smartest lead characters at the center of a gripping drama, this book is an exhilarating tale to be sure. For those that haven’t read it, a quick, spoiler-free synopsis: NASA has sent multiple missions to Mars and inevitably something has gone wrong. Stranded on the Red Planet, Astronaut Mark Watney has to fend for himself with only his intelligence and impressive, if not somewhat vulgar, witticisms to keep him company until help can come….in about four years or so.
I was able to grab some photos and a video of Neil live-tweeting his favorite line from the book, as seen above. Later that evening, I noticed the book’s author, Andy Weir, was gleefully sharing the news of Neil talking about his favorite line and how his life was now complete. I was able to share the pictures and video with Andy and he was kind enough to respond back, even with such a busy schedule. I decided to see if Andy had a minute for a few quick questions for a fellow Astronut like himself and he was willing to indulge me. Read the interview below!
Upportunity: First off, I want to congratulate you on hitting Number 1 on the New York Times Bestseller’s List! With Mark Watney, you’ve created one of the most interesting characters of this century, with a bravado and charm reminiscent of sci-fi icons like Han Solo and Ian Malcolm. Can you tell us a bit about the process you went through in giving him this style of personality in a genre rarely known for characters with this kind of flare?
Andy Weir: 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.
U: The book is a technical marvel. Not only is it science-heavy, but its science is /correct/. If someone were to read recent books on the
challenges us that will face us on the Red Planet, such as Buzz Aldrin’s Mission to Mars or Andrew Rader’s Leaving Earth, they’d see a lot of the same work and enthusiasm. What is your science background and how did that help shape the novel?
AW: I’m a lifelong space nerd. So I learned a lot about it along the way, as anyone does with their hobbies. I’m also a fan of orbital dynamics and physics. But my only formal training in anything was in computer programming.
U: Speaking of Buzz Aldrin, he recently shared his support of your work, just as Chris Hadfield, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and other space icons
before him. You can tell how genuinely happy this makes you from your responses on social media, just as any other fan would be. How does it feel to know that you are now part of the conversation on Mars and that your book and its movie adaptation could help the Mars missions gain much-needed support?
AW: It’s awesome! I feel like I’ve been put in touch with the Nerd Pantheon. 🙂
U: From global superpowers to the privatized space industry, the race to Mars is on. In your opinion, who do you think will be the first to get
there and do you feel there’s any validity to the crowdfunded ventures like Mars One?
AW: I think the first manned mission will probably be an international effort, similar in style to ISS.
I don’t take Mars One seriously at all. I don’t know why anyone does. They don’t have enough money to colonize Nebraska, let alone Mars.
“I love your book, and really love the interest in Mars that it is generating. As an aspiring sci-fi author, my question is in regards to
your writing process. Do you have a recommendation for if or when a writer should stop reading novels and stories so as not to influence
their ideas and writing? For instance, did you stay away from reading Mars stories or sci-fi in general before or while you were writing the Martian? Thanks!”
AW: I didn’t change my reading habits. I wouldn’t worry about being influenced by other works. If you’ve got a story in you, it’ll try to come out, regardless of what you’re reading for pleasure at the time.
U: Again, thanks Andy for the excellent book and congratulations on all
your success. I hope we get to see you back in this kind of playground
throughout what I’m certain will be a long and deserved career! Don’t
forget to send me tickets to the premiere!