Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian opens with astronaut Mark Watney discovering that his crew has left him stranded on Mars. Luckily, Watney is both the mission botanist and its engineer, and he is able to use both of those skill sets to survive. His black sense of humor is also crucial. Readers will go from nail-biting to rolling on the floor laughing and back again in this exciting and hilarious novel whose film rights have already been sold. Weir is a software programmer and proud space nerd.
You initially self-published this title as an ebook. Why did you choose that route, and how do you feel about being picked up by a traditional publisher?
I originally posted the story to my website one chapter at a time. Once it was done, I posted an epub version. Manually getting an epub onto a Kindle is kind of annoying and not the normal [practice}, so people requested I post it to Kindle Direct. I tried to post it there for free but found out that (aside from short duration specials) you have to charge a minimum of 99 cents. So I set that as the price.
It sold really well and climbed up the charts, which attracted the attention of print publishers. My agent took offers from the interested parties and Crown’s offer was the best. How did that make me feel? I’m ecstatic! It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to get published. I’d given up hope, which is why I started posting online. If I couldn’t be a professional writer, I’d at least be a hobbyist.
The Martian depicts the classic struggle of man vs. nature in a particularly geek-tinged light. How important do you feel geeks are to humanity’s chances for long-term survival, whether Earth-bound or off-planet?
I think humanity is incredibly resilient and can survive anything, with or without geeks. What we geeks do is make life easier and more fun. We don’t get much recognition, we rarely get fame, and we almost never get gratitude. But what we get instead can be considered mor valuable than any of that: we get money. Lots and lots of money. It’s really awesome. I heartily recommend it.
If you were in the same situation as Mark Watney, what would your soundtrack be? Which movies/television shows would you bring with you to Mars?
I’d probably want as much classic rock and Eighties music as I could get. My top three favorite movies are, in order: The Lion in Winter, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Empire Strikes Back. As for TV shows, I’d want something with a whole lot of episodes because I’m going to be stranded for years. So maybe something like The Simpsons or my favorite Japanese anime series, One Piece.
The blurb on the review copy plays up the harrowing aspects of this story, but it is also quite funny. How vital do you think a sense of humor is to space exploration? Is humor something that we can expect to see in your future writing projects?
Absolutely. I discovered by accident that humor was a vital part of the formula. When I started The Martian, I had a much more serious and gritty story in mind.
But once Watney’s personality started to develop, I really liked having all the jokes in there. Readers have overwhelmingly said that the humor (which I thought was a minor element when I wrote it) was one of the main things they loved. So you can bet I’m going to do more of that.
What would you say to anyone interested in a career at NASA or in space exploration?
I know this isn’t exactly the answer you wanted, but I would advise them to consider the private sector. The ever-growing space industry has some really exciting stuff going on. They’re working on commercial space flights [and] new boosters that cut launch costs to a fraction of what they are now, and they’re even designing space hotels.
See a review of The Martian in the 12/2013 issue of Library Journal.