There are lots of good writers out there, but only a few who also possess the creativity to come up with a compelling story that captures the imagination of readers. To write a truly great book, though–especially in the realm of science fiction or techno-thrillers–the author must also be an expert researcher. The plausibility or realism of the story rely on the author being technically accurate–often about technologies and scientific concepts he or she doesn’t personally know anything about.
I recently got to speak with Andy Weir, author of The Martian, in honor of the release of the movie for home audiences. It’s available starting today on digital HD, and the Blu-Ray and DVD editions will be available January 12. I asked Weir about how he researched The Martian to make sure it was technically accurate:
The Martian was one of the biggest movies of 2015. If you set aside the epic cultural revolution of the Star Wars franchise, The Martian would be the number one sci-fi movie of the year. In celebration of the release of The Martian for home audiences, I had an opportunity to speak with the author of the book, Andy Weir.
The interview with Weir was the shortest I’ve ever done. Apparently, Mr. Weir is in high demand and his time is limited. I only had five minutes, and I had to choose what to ask or what we should focus on in that limited time. The number one question in my mind was how one goes about writing a science fiction story that is also technically and scientifically accurate.
Every once in a while I have fleeting visions of grandeur about writing a novel. I have plenty of ideas. I also have lots of inspiration—like Frank Herbert, Dan Brown, and my friend Mark Russinovich. The one thing that I always find intimidating about the thought, though, is where to begin to research the technical details that make it realistic. These authors all wrote successful works of fiction that contain a significant amount of accurate detail from fields outside the author’s own background or knowledge—detail that had to be researched.
One of the things that I find most interesting about the process of researching and writing a novel like The Martian is that you don’t know what you don’t know, so it would be easy to miss key details. You can research questions and find answers, but first you have to know enough to ask the right questions.
Weir told me that the seed for writing The Martian was pretty simple. He said he’s spent his whole life being a “space dork”. He wasn’t a space expert, but—from that perspective—he did begin his research for The Martian with a little more than layman’s knowledges on the topic.
That said, he also didn’t know anyone who worked in the aerospace industry. He had no direct source of information. He did have some pre-existing knowledge because outer space and space travel are hobbies of his, but he told me that most of the research for The Martian was simply done using Google.
Weir was also a computer programmer for 25 years before he became a writer. He shared that researching the math and science behind the story was a fun experience for him.
Check out the rest of my chat with Andy Weir at Forbes: Author Of ‘The Martian’ Talks About The Science Behind The Book.