Scientific infodumps don’t have to be dull. no, really, especially if you’re reading a book by The Martian and Artemis author Andy Weir.
“if i can just find an excuse to have somebody talking about science i can usually make it interesting,” he reckons, “because it’s interesting to me. Also i’ve found a reader will forgive any amount of dry exposition if you have a joke every couple of paragraphs.”
despite suffering from jet lag when SFX meets him in his new York hotel, the cheeky wit and touch of mischief in Weir’s New York Times bestsellers are very much in evidence. His geek credentials are also to the fore as he enthuses about his new role as a talking head on the inspirational national Geographic series Mars. “i’m one of the Big thinkers, which is kind of an honorific i’m not sure that i’m entitled to, but i can sit around and talk about mars and space travel all day.”
A good time then to talk about inspirations closer to home...
isAAc AsimoV, RoBeRt HeinLein And ARtHuR c cLARKe
In terms of writers, they are my holy trinity, which is funny because they are one generation back from what you would expect from my age. But I grew up reading my dad’s science fiction collection, so those are the writers I was reading as a kid and everything’s awesome when you’re 10. So that’s what really inspired me. I read all the Robots stuff by Asimov, the Robots Of Dawn series but also I, Robot. For Heinlein, before he got older and became a perverted weird guy, the early stuff was really cool, like Have Space Suit – Will Travel, Farmer In The Sky, The Rolling Stones, Red Planet. Red Planet was the first time I ever read a book from start to finish in a single day. And it was a school day too, around tenth grade, so I was in the back of the class reading – I was not a great student! One of my favourites of Clarke’s is Rendezvous With Rama, and I also really like his short stories. Nowadays I feel like science fiction has been taken over by dystopian young adult miseryscapes where the world is a fascist dictatorship and can only be saved by teenagers doing weird shit. But I liked Asimov’s aspirational views of the future.
In addition to my other elements of nerdity I’m an economics nerd, and that’s a really hard thing to make an exciting story about. Or it can be exciting to me but it’s not going to be exciting to anyone else, and as we learned from The Phantom Menace you don’t start a story with a description of supply side economics, it’s not enthralling. But to me, economics is what drives civilisations forward, and that’s why for Artemis when I’m like, “I want to make a story about a city on the Moon,” at first I was unable to move forward until I came up with an economic foundation for why there would be a city on the Moon. There are tons and tons of economics articles that I like to read online, and also a few years back the Greek debt crisis, which is still going on – that became my favourite soap opera! Every morning I would get up and eagerly read the news for what’s going on and think, “Oh no, they did that?” It’s interesting – it’s conflict, it’s massive, it’s multi-national and it’s also really testing the whole concept of the Euro.
It’s my favourite science fiction show. That had a big effect on me growing up as a kid. Time travel is one of my favourite devices to have in a story. But I write hard science fiction, realistic science fiction, so I’d have to really work at it to come up with a time travel story, but I have ideas. I would love to write an episode of Doctor Who. I’ve told Chris Chibnall I’ll do it for free! I’ll do it for £1!
Artemis is supposed to take place in the 2080s, so it’s kind of hard to explain a lot of pop culture from today still being relevant then, but I do figure Star Trek would still be relevant because Star Trek is 50 years old now, and there are plenty of dorks out there, myself included, who can give you stupid little details about the classic series, so why wouldn’t it survive another 50 years? It’s a classic, just like Casablanca. I like classic Trek the best, mainly because that’s what I grew up on – Trek re-runs. I was already a teenager by the time Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. “Mirror, Mirror” is one of my favourite episodes. The idea of a parallel universe full of evil people – they invented that, right there, in that one episode. Now it’s just a trope, everybody does it, but the concept of an evil parallel universe and the idea that your evil twin has a goatee came from that!
THE MAN BEHIND THE MARTIAN TELLS TANAVI PATEL WHAT TOOK HIM TO THE STARS
Right now I have this struggling moustache going on because I’m trying to grow it for a Halloween costume. My friends and I are going to be the Beatles. We already have the outfits to be the Sergeant Pepper album cover. I’m John, so I have to get this John moustache going. I love the Beatles, they are my favourite band ever. Sergeant Pepper is my favourite album though I really like Abbey Road. I love the way their music sounds, though none of it spoke to me on a personal level; I just really like the music. I’m not into their personal lives – that’s their business.
I know I’m heavily inspired by Terry Pratchett. I always forget to mention him because people are always talking in the context of sci-fi, but I was definitely inspired by his style of humour. Pratchett will go off in random footnotes that are hysterical. One is where there’s a character walking across the Brass Bridge in AnkhMorpork. There’s a footnote that goes something like, “The Brass Bridge has eight rampant hippos and it’s been there longer than anyone can remember; no one remembers who built it the city is so old. But it is said by many that if ever the city’s in danger those hippos will come to life and run away!” [Laughs]. There are just unexpected twists and turns in the humour that I love.
Dave Berry used to write columns in the order of 1,000 words long for the Miami Herald. Of course in the ’80s when I was reading it you’d have these compendiums, so I had a book full of columns. It’s hard for me to describe what it is but he was just really funny. There was this one time in real life where this whale washed up in somewhere like Oregon; it died, and so now there’s this whale carcass on the beach. Berry’s article on this is hilarious as he writes, “So they decided to call the Oregon Highway Patrol, on the theory that whales and highways are similar in that they’re both big things.”
neiL deGRAsse tYson
He is one of the most well-known astronomers in pop culture. I’ve done many events with him. He’s a very good communicator and extremely charismatic. If you’re in a room with him you just fall in love with him. He’s got a presence to him that draws you to him and makes you want to listen to anything he has to say.
Mars season two premieres on National Geographic on 11 November.
Weir would love to write an episode of Doctor Who.
Terry Pratchett was a huge influence on a young Weir.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: no jacket required. Weir wants to groove every time he hears The Beatles.