By Andy Weir, author of The Martian: A Novel
When I wrote “The Martian,” I didn’t mean to craft a thriller that could double as a science textbook— but to some extent, that’s what happened.
The story revolves around a lone astronaut named Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars. He faces countless trials and tribulations in his increasingly desperate attempts to survive. As a science dork, I wanted to make sure everything in the book was as accurate as it could be. I wanted to back up Mark’s solutions with hard numbers. As a result, many parts of the book are basically deadly word problems based on what Mark must do to survive. His life becomes a series of challenges in chemistry, physics, astronomy, and math.
Because the book is so heavy on science, I had to make the reader understand how critical it was to Mark’s survival. But I also had to keep from wandering off into long explanations of minutiae and I resist the urge to brag to the reader about every detail of every solution. I did a lot of work to solve these problems in a physically accurate way, and I really wanted the reader to know—but most people aren’t interested in a 5-page dissertation about the energy required to freeze-separate carbon dioxide from oxygen.
That balancing act was the biggest challenge I faced. And I think it turned out alright. Although I did brag a little.
I love science for its own sake, but I know I’m atypical. And I think—or hope—that a book like The Martian can provide a perspective that helps students see just how cool science can be. A physics or chemistry puzzle that might be boring in the abstract suddenly becomes much more engaging once it’s critical to saving someone’s life. Science is a tool we use to solve problems or make our lives better. The allure is in what you can do with it.
I hope to make readers enjoy science just as much as I do. My favorite fan-mail is the kind that says “I don’t usually like science, but…”
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