“I’d say I’m about eight minutes into my 15 minutes of fame.”
Such is the wry observation of writer Andy Weir, whose novel, The Martian, has gone from the best sellers list to the big screen in the new film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on the surface of Maras as his crew returns to Earth. The twist is, however, that he’s actually still alive, and has to stay that way until a rescue team can reach him.
Tell us about the publication process behind The Martian.
Initially, I posted chapter by chapter of the novel to my website, and then, when I finished, people asked for an eReader version. So I came up with one, but then other readers said, “Well, I’m not very technically savvy. Can you post it to Amazon through Kindle self-publishing so that I can get it through their system?” I did that and Amazon requires that you charge at least 99 cents. So I said, “Okay, guys, you can get it for free from my site or you can pay Amazon a buck to put it on your Kindle for you.” It really got around and sold very, very well on Amazon. Then the book got really good reviews, so it worked its way up the sales ratings and got in the top sellers. Once it got to there, that got the attention of Random House and literary agents and Fox.
How did you come up with the story idea for The Martian?
I started thinking about all of the things that could go wrong with [a manned mission to Mars] and how the mission plan would deal with it. This seemed to lend itself to a good story, so I created an unfortunate protagonist.
The idea of a guy stranded in nature is hundreds of years old, right? Going back to Robinson Crusoe. But I guess my main inspiration for this was Apollo 13. We’ve got a problem in space, and it’s kind of the ultimate in an inhospitable environment. Putting the guy alone there means I can avoid all that inconvenient character interaction that I don’t like to do. So it’s one guy and then you’re, like, “Oh, this poor guy.” If it’s a group of people, your feeling is, “Well, they’re a team of highly trained astronauts, they should be able to handle this.” It also started off as a daydream about, “Well, what would I do in this situation?” Most characters are just someone the author wants to be or someone the author wants to screw.”
How would you cope in that situation?
Oh, I would be quite dead!
What was your primary role in the film?
I was a ‘concept writer, and then when he finished the screenplay, he sent it to me for feedback. He made some changes based on my feedback, and other things he did not change. And then Ridley very occasionally would ask me or send me questions. These were always very technical things, like, “Can we show Mark [Watney] pouring hydrazine from one container into another out on the surface of Mars?” I’m, like, “Well, the hydrazine would boil off, because the atmosphere is too thin,” and he would say, “All right, then we won’t do that.” It was that sort of thing. It’s not like Ridley Scott was coming to me for creative advice or had a question about camera angles.
Have you seen the film, and what did you think of it?
I spent the first five minutes just kind of choked up, trying not to cry; I couldn’t believe they’d actually made it.
What were your thoughts on Matt Damon’s performance?
He nailed it. He just absolutely, perfectly nailed it. He is exactly how I imagined the character. I mean, I didn’t have a physical idea of what Watney looked like… in fact, when I finished the book, I couldn’t have told you what hair color he had, but just the way he talks, his body language and mannerism was exactly how I envisioned Watney.
What are your plans for the future?
This is a new profession for me, and I’m just kind of bungling around. Everybody seems to be happy with me right now, but I also know it’s a very streaky profession. When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not. I’m enjoying my moment in the sun, though I’m worried about what comes next. I’ve had this incredibly successful novel and now I’m writing a second one. People are going to be holding that up to the margin and comparing it to that in quality. There’s an expectation, and I guess we’ll find out if I’m a one-hit wonder.
The Martian is in cinemas now. For more news on the biggest movies, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.