Author Andy Weir, known for his huge breakout hit The Martian, is back again with another brilliant science fiction story called Project Hail Mary. In this story, the world is faced with collapse and has one chance to save itself in the form of a manned scientific mission. It has interstellar travel, mystery, friendship, and excitement. Andy was kind enough to answer some questions for Grimdark Magazine about his reading life, writing, sudden fame, and mental health.
GdM: As a science-fiction nerd and heavy reader, there are books out there that affected me profoundly and changed how I viewed the world. I know that you have a deep love of science fiction going back to being a kid. What are some books that have affected you deeply and why?
I loved the “Caves of Steel” series by Asimov. They showed me that Sci-Fi can be more than just action or adventure stories. It can also be a mystery or, frankly, anything you want. Also, “Red Planet” by Heinlein really hit me in my sense of wonder when I read it as a kid. And, unrelated to Sci-Fi, I loved Terry Pratchett’s books because I learned the value of humor in narration from him.
GdM: When did you start to build a love of space exploration?
Pretty much from birth. I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t interested in space.
GdM: You were a software engineer at Blizzard in the 1990s. I know that software engineers have a very systematic way of breaking down problems into small, manageable parts and solving those small parts. Is that how you approach writing, breaking down each idea into small pieces? Or do you sit down and let the story flow out from beginning to end?
I generally have the major beats of the story worked out in advance. I know the big plot twists and the ending. But other than that, I let the writing flow naturally. And sometimes that makes me come up with better twists.
GdM: Firstly, let’s talk about The Martian, a huge hit and a beloved member of the science fiction canon. The Martian started as a serialized novel on your website where you had “3000 daily fact-checkers.” What was the daily fact check like versus writing Artemis, or your newest novel, Project Hail Mary?
It was much harder to get all the science right in Artemis and Project Hail Mary for precisely that reason. I put more time and care into research because I knew if I got something wrong, no one would be able to tell me until the book was already in print.
It’s really amazing. The whole experience seemed surreal to me. Like a dream.
GdM: Speaking of different mediums, you have worked in short stories, game design, novels, graphic novels, and webcomics. Is the creative process different for all these different mediums? Or do you approach things similarly?
Generally the same thing across all media. A cool idea followed by hours of work.
GdM: You interviewed with Adam Savage and Astronaut Chris Hadfield, worked with Wil Wheaton, and have been to NASA. You are living the nerd dream right there. What are some other things that you would be interested in doing in the future that is in the same vein?
I love meeting scientists and seeing their labs. Going to NASA was the best experience of my life. I’m not sure what I could ask for that would top it.
GdM: Let’s talk about The Egg. It was quite the deep philosophical dive, especially after I watched the Kurzgesagt video on it. Ovoism sounds like a terrible religion. What do you think about the attention it has gotten, and how did writing it come about?
It was just a story I banged out in 40 minutes one evening. I did a single edit pass then posted it to my site. I didn’t expect it to be significant. It was just one of many short stories I wrote in that period. Then it blew up and got really popular. I’m glad it did.
But I do get the occasional email from someone who believes The Egg is actually true. I always make sure to tell them I don’t think it’s true. It’s just a story I made up. I also don’t believe there’s a guy stranded on Mars. These are just stories.