THE Andy Weir, author of “The Martian”, joins us to talk about his NEW BOOK, “Project Hail Mary”. It’s our Season 1 Finale, so like NBD. He tells Lacey she’s pretty and Alex that he likes TerraGenesis (!!!). We all try to keep our cool… uhmm sort of. We geek out over books, film and of course, Andy’s dog, Coco. Pick up a copy of Andy Weir’s new book “Project Hail Mary” today!
𝕋𝕙𝕖 𝕊𝕪𝕟𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕤𝕚𝕤 is a live talk show that aims to find the relationship between science and fiction in pop culture. We’ll discuss a book, movie, or show each week that’s science-focused and talk about just how realistic it is, where reality is cooler than fiction, and exactly where certain liberties were taken.
Hey folks, this is Alexander Winn. And I am Lacey Hannan.
And we are here with the latest episode of The Synthesis, the show where we talk about real science in entertainment. This week we are talking about “Project Hail Mary”, the new book by Andy Weir who wrote the Martian, which we went through chapter by chapter as well as Artemis. This is an awesome book, I sat down with the intention of reading it over the course of a week, and I read it in about 18 hours. And, yeah, this week, the cool thing that we have is,
we have in the interview with Andy Weir, yes. And we talked about Hail Mary, we talked about some of his past projects, we talked about some of his future projects. So if you’re keen to know all things Andy, we’re and the entertainment he puts out for us, then tune in to the rest of this because we have a good time. It’s fun, it’s casual.
That being said, there are a few spoilers for the story. We don’t give away everything. We don’t give away any of the major plot twists. But we do talk about things that are revealed halfway through the book or that sort of thing. So if you are really intense about avoiding spoilers, and you’re really looking forward to this book, maybe go grab it, it should be on shelves now. And come back and check it out. Once you’re done reading.
I hope you guys enjoy it as much as we did, because we thoroughly we thoroughly loved this book. I mean, I would say that it’s quite a bit different than then his past work. And that was fun. And it was interesting to see him. Take a new
Yeah, it’s got everything that you like about the Martian and Artemis, but it’s got some new elements that he hasn’t played around with in his stories yet, which is, which is fun.
So take a gander, you guys.
All right. We are here with Andy, we’re author of project Hail Mary, which we have right here, which is an excellent book that Lacey and I read over the last week, I expected to read it over the course of about five days. And I ended up reading it in just under 24 hours. ended up really cutting into what I was planning to do that day, but I have no regrets. So joining us as Andy Weir, the author, thank you so much for being here.
Thanks for having me.
The first question that I have is, you know, I’ve seen other interviews that you’ve done for the Martian. And for Artemis, I’m a huge fan of both books. And I noticed, you know, when when you were talking about the Martian, you talked about how that story really began as just sort of Andy we’re got curious about how a Mars mission would work, and started working out the details. And then you’ve mentioned that Artemis sort of began as Andy Weir got curious about lunar economics and how a city on the moon network, or really more about like, what will humanity’s first city that’s not on earth be? Yeah, what will it be like?
So I’m wondering, is it safe to say that project Hail Mary basically began as Andy Weir got curious about how alien biology might work? Or was there something else that led you to this particular story?
So is there an issue with the dog being here? Just checking. Okay.
I love that. Yes.
Your audience will be like, why is Andy Weir hugging a mop? Um, no. So, actually, like project Hail Mary came from a bunch of different ideas, I had four different stories that didn’t really flesh out each on their own. But somehow, in a series of shower epiphanies, they really fit well together as a single cohesive story. Now it looks like when you read it, it seems like oh, yeah, everything leads logically. But like, these were all chunks that I put together from other stories, strangely enough, astrophysics itself was came from a story that I was working on, that I never published, where they had a spacecraft fuel, that could do mass conversion and turn it into light. propulsion. And, you know, I never got anywhere with that story, but it’s, it’s in Project Hail Mary. Then there’s another one where a character that I lifted directly from one of my other stories, was a woman who had just this massive amount of secret authority. Like she can just basically tell governments what to do. And they do it. And but nobody knew who she was or that, you know, or, you know, stuff like that. And she was working toward a, you know, a non selfish goal. And so, okay, so she’s in the book, that’s the character of strap. And then also, I had an unrelated idea of a guy waking up aboard a spaceship with amnesia, you know? Yeah. And then yeah, and then we’ve had our spoiler warning already. Yes. And then also the notion of a first context. Yeah, so all those things ended up dovetailing together really nicely.
Yeah, well, they like you said they came together seamlessly.
They did. I would be curious. You know, in talking in what you said about the guy waking up on a spaceship with amnesia, this narrative breaks the mold of your other ones. How was it writing something that was more of a mystery than your last two books?
It felt great. I love it. Because I’ve learned while I’m writing it, because when I’m writing,
I’m always reading what I wrote, and putting myself in the mindset of like, okay, now I’m a reader who doesn’t know anything other than what I’ve read so far in the story. And what I found is that there’s nothing for pulling a reader along, like as unfolding mystery, like making the reader wonder, okay, what’s going on here, and then giving them a little bit of information. And then they’re like, oh, okay, another clue. And they like that. The biggest challenge for me was that, if I told the story linearly, if I just told it, like, from the beginning of all the events that happened to the end of all the events that happen, it would be a very weird story. It would be like, all the characters in the first act, you’d never see them again. You know, once they launched the ship, and then the one of the most important characters you wouldn’t see until the middle of the book. Yeah, like Rocky. Yeah. And, and then so it just be like, there were two books that were glued together. And it wouldn’t make a lot of it would not be enjoyable. So I hate flashbacks. I’m the first person to tell everybody when they’re asking for writing advice. One of the things I say is don’t do flashbacks. So here I am a massive hypocrite. But it was really the only way I could tell the story without having a really weird disjoint sequence of events. So I figure I tried to think of, well, what what is it that bugs me so much about flashbacks? And what bugs me is I’m usually really invested in the primary plot. And then the flashback is used to show me some expositional crap I didn’t care about like, oh, okay, you know, here’s, here’s like this, you know, amazing events that are going on, or shattering events. And now we’re gonna go back and spend 10 minutes of like, if it’s a TV show, 10 minutes of screen time, showing you how the protagonist met his wife. Like, I don’t give a crap about that. Go back to the main plot, you know? Yeah. So I think your flashbacks are, it’s kind of like, you’re out playing with your friends, and your mom tells you to come in and clean your room. Right? It’s like that. And so I figure Well, it’s alright, if you’re out playing with your friends, and your mom tells you to come in and have pie. You know, it’s okay, if the flashbacks themselves are just as entertaining and compelling. I guess a lot of writers like to use flashbacks as a easy way of putting exposition into a story. But I used it to be part of the unfolding mystery, and also the flashback sequences coincide with the main sequence and stuff like that. So hopefully, hopefully, when when you get to a flashback, you’re not disappointed, but you’re like excited because you’re gonna get more information.
I think that is how it plays out.
Yeah, that that was the goal. Thank you.
I will support that.
That was definitely my reaction. Yeah, I was very fascinated by what was unfolding on Earth as well as the spaceship storyline. So one of the things that obviously jumps out when you read project Hail Mary, as opposed to the Martian and Artemis is there are a lot more sort of five parts of the sci fi there’s there’s aliens, there’s, there’s more stuff that is just sort of not grounded in specific reality. Whereas Artemis in the Martian, you have the sense that no, this exact story might happen. This is exactly how it might play out. So I’m wondering, you know, you’ve you’ve built this sort of brand. And obviously it’s a it’s a personal interest of yours of having everything grounded in realism. So when you did approach this story that was a little bit more fantastical. How did you decide where to allow for convenient fictions? Like, when is it okay to just make it up and say, This is how it works? Because it does.
Well, my goal was to make like this, you know, there’s alien life forms in this book. Yeah. Two different species. And, and, well, three, I guess, three. And and I wanted to make sure that I, I figured it would be nice to have like, a story, a hard sci fi story that involves alien life. I’m not the first person to do that. But the idea of like, okay, all the previous my previous books, these are things that you could conceivably see happening. All the characters are humans, it’s not that super far into the future. There’s nothing really fantastical, but I wanted this to at least be physically possible. So you know, there’s, there’s, there are basically three biospheres involved in the book there’s earth. And then there’s arid, you know, Rockies Homeworld, and then there’s, well, what they ended up naming Adrian, that planet and tell SETI, what that tells SETI system has a biosphere as well, right? That’s the homeworld of the astrophysics and stuff. And so the main thing I was like, it’s like, okay, I want this to be as plausible as possible. So I decided, like, here’s the thing it’s like, if it seems really unlikely that life would independently evolved in all three of those stars, mainly because they’re very, very close together in the grand scheme of things. Tell SETI is like 11 light years from here. 40 or Adani, which is where Rocky’s home system is, is like 16 light years from here, and the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across. So that’s that’s just way too close to for it to be reasonable that life evolved separately, you know, so I decided there had to be a panspermia event. Well, fortunately, we’ve already demonstrated that the towel city biosphere has life forms that can travel interstellar distances. So I decided that some ancestor of Astra phage was the
panspermia so life only evolved once and it evolved on planet Adrian. Right and earth and arid were both basically seeded by panspermia, it’s all just natural. It’s not any intelligent life or anything like that. Just the same way that you know, there’s life on, on on all seven continents of Earth, even though it really only evolved once, right? So how to get to the other continents? Well, it’s spread out. So that’s like one thing I wanted to do. And also the idea that you know, Rockies biosphere, is I kind of think of first contact stories that involve everybody’s like, super comfortable in the exact same environment. And, you know, in Star Trek style, where it’s just like, some forehead bumps are the difference between Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing shade at Star Trek. I’m a total Trekkie nerd. Absolutely. Like I’ve seen literally every episode of every trek related anything. But But yeah, I mean, I didn’t want to be alien to be some hot, blue skinned woman who wants to learn more about this earth thing called love making cry, want to be like a genuinely, really, really as alien as possible, like, completely incompatible with Earth’s biosphere? Even the way their language works is something you cannot make the sounds that their language makes, they can’t make the sounds that are make we you need interpretation in the way and so on. Yeah.
Well, and that kind of leads me to one of my questions is, you know, you talk about grace. At one point, you establish this pretty early on his he writes this paper about how not all life is going to need water. And then we go on to meet Rocky, who does. And I’m wondering, oh, this is wrong.
I’m wondering like, yeah, okay, so maybe that just answers my question. I was kind of wondering, what camp Do you fall in? of? Does it have to have water or not? I
actually, I actually believe that you don’t need water for life. I don’t buy into the idea that water is required for any form of life. However, within the context of the story, it was a panspermia event, we’re all descended from a single common ancestor. Right? So the life that well, in the real in reality, it’s life that evolved on Earth, right. But within the story, it’s the life that evolved on planet Adrian evolved to require water, so all of its descendants require water. Yeah, the fundamental cellular mechanisms, everything you can, there’s no getting around it. So all the life that that he encountered does require water, which I thought would be a funny thing. Because usually, if you have a main character, who’s the sole voice saying one thing, and everyone’s telling him he’s wrong, it’s almost a guarantee that that guy is gonna turn out to be right. Yeah, I thought it’d be neat for 170 characters just wrong.
I loved that. Because we, you know, again, we just have done an in depth, like a deep dive on the Martian. And we love how, you know, intelligent and yet not a superhero, that what he is, yeah. And his capacity for knowing lots of things or being able to pick up on things really quickly is awesome. And then you’ve got grace, who’s also incredibly intelligent, but is wrong on something that’s pretty big is
Yeah. To be fair, he was kind of partially right. One of the things his paper said was that the Goldilocks zone is how do you feel about scoring on your show?
You’re all good.
I do it. Okay. That’s the Goldilocks zone is bullshit, right? Yeah, this is this is the thing that I do believe that this notion of the Goldilocks zone is like, what? It’s like, Oh, this is the range where liquid water can happen. I’m like, no The range is much larger than that. Yeah, all you need to have liquid water at a temperature above 100 degrees Celsius is to have more than one atmosphere of pressure. Yeah. And so like Rockies Homeworld, the the, the surface, atmospheric pressure is, like 29 atmospheres, and the temperature is 210 degrees Celsius. And water is a liquid. Yeah. Even though it’s like 210 degrees Celsius, like 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But water is a liquid because the atmospheric pressure is so high. So now you have liquid water, way outside what they call the Goldilocks zone.
Yeah, playing with with atmospheric pressure and the boiling temperature of water is, has been fascinating since you played with it in artemus. And the idea that you can’t have hot food
can’t have can’t have really hot food. Yeah.
That is, you know, that’s one of the things when we, when we hear at Edwards talk about, you know, the the future cultures that will exist on other planets, one of the first things I always reach for is different planets might have different cuisine, because for example, you can’t have soup on this world, because the atmospheric pressure is too low, it just tastes tepid and gross. So yeah, it’s, that’s a, that’s a very fun thing to play with. So as, as you are, as you’re working on these things, you know, the the impression for the reader is there’s a problem, and the hero works on it and finds a solution and then moves forward. And my understanding is that for the Martian, that kind of has to be true, because you were releasing a chapter by chapter, yeah. But for subsequent books, you as the author do actually have the opportunity to hit something and then go back and be like, Ah, this would actually be a lot easier. If you had 20 solar panels, instead of 15 solar panels, I’m just gonna go back and change the number of solar panels he had. So I’m wondering, how often does that kind of thing happened? Do you present yourself with a problem? And then just force yourself to fix it with what you got? Or do you change?
I will change things for sure. I’ll change things to make it solvable. I won’t necessarily make it easy on the protagonists, but I’ll make it solvable. But also, I did do that on the Martian, I would go back and change chapters that I’d already posted. Oh, yeah, it was sort of a disclaimer on my site. At the time when I was reading it. I’m like, Okay, this is a serial, but it’s a book that I’m writing. And you’re seeing a chapter at a time. So I might go back and change chapters you’ve already read. And when I did that, I saw at the time, I had a mailing list of regular readers and stuff like that. And when I change things that I already posted a while ago, I would alert the readers I would say, Hey, everybody, chapter seven, I’ve made changes. Okay? Oh, you can either go read chapter seven again, or here’s a recap of the changes that I made.
It’s like patch notes for software now.
It’s exactly that well, I’m a I’m a software engineer, right. So I was And so yeah, I really was release notes or patch notes. Yeah.
That’s love. I love that there’s the the transparency there is rather than hurt. Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. So this kind of goes off in a slightly different direction. But you have this character that I just was so heartbroken for. And there’s like a lot of heartbreak I about lost my mind. I’m not Rocky, I assume. Well, I that one about broke me. But there’s I’m not going to give away that spoiler. But there is another character. Leclerc le cleric.
Oh, yeah, first of all occurred.
So I’m wondering, is there one scientist or one person that you’ve written in this story that you have the most empathy or something for?
I mean, the obvious answer would be grace, you know? But I don’t know I mean, Leclerc. It’s, it’s it’s sad. But that’s the guy doing the opposite of everything he’s stood for, for the good of all mankind. Right? all humanity. One person I actually sympathize with that may surprise you is strat. She’s in charge of literally saving all of humanity. And she has to make some hard decisions. Yeah, yeah. And he’s not a monster. She’s not a robot. She has emotion. She has feelings. But she she’s also ruthless in making this thing happen because she has to be and so whatever, whatever columns or issues she has, she has to set aside to do this stuff and she makes it look easy. But at the end, you find out that you
know, she is she does feel bad about some of the things that she’s been forced to do. That being said, we know about Andy we’re writing a villain because he wrote the Moriarty stories. Did Mitch I adore? Yes. Yeah, we, I have always been fast. I actually wrote my own sort of version of Moriarty stories A while back. And when I found yours, I was like, Oh, this is awesome. And then I saw Andy Weir. And I was like, seriously?
Well, thank you. Yeah, I had a lot of fun writing those. And I would love for that to be a TV show. I even pitched it at one point. But the people who were slightly interested in it then heard about like, somebody else is doing somebody else at I don’t know if it ever got green lighted, but somebody else at the time was also making some sort of Moriarty based thing. Okay. Gonna be kind of supernatural or weird. I don’t know. It’s gonna be completely different than mine. And it was some big name person that you don’t want to be perceived as being in competition with. I don’t remember who Well, it wrong for not having it again. Yeah, pitch it again. Or just or just keep writing the last as
I was writing those before I wrote the Martian, right. So I intended for them to be a serial as well. And he was going to slowly build up his cadra. of if that’s how it’s pronounced of criminals like so bit by bit. You know, the first story is just him and Captain Moran. Yeah, yeah. Who in the books is Colonel Moran, right? Yeah. Captain ran. But now he’s got a powerful ally in violet Sutcliffe. Yeah, is the arsonist. Yeah, she’s very good at it. So that was gonna be another one. And then bit by bit he was going to accumulate, you would see him building up his syndicate.
I’m here for it.
So the next question I have is, you know, when we when we did the Martian on our show, we did sort of a chapter by chapter analysis of the book. And then the ending episode of that miniseries was, we talked about the movie. And we are both huge fans of the book and huge fans of the movie. But you naturally start getting into, you know, how do they differ and that sort of thing. And one of the things that we realized was, because it’s a movie, you obviously don’t have as much time. And so there’s an interesting distinction where the book of the Martian is the story of someone coming up with solutions. And the movie of the Martian is the story of someone implementing solutions. You don’t actually see him doing the math, he just talks into the camera, he says, here’s what I’m going to do. Yeah, there’s a similar dichotomy. In project Hail Mary, where when we’re on in sort of the present day on the spaceship, he’s figuring out solutions. And then in the flashbacks on Earth, it’s much more of just Hey, the Russians have figured out how to do this, or, hey, we, we are going to do this in Antarctica, because it will have this effect. And so I was wondering, was there a choice to establish that dichotomy? Was there ever a version where you got more into the figuring it out on on earth side?
Interesting, you point that out? No, that that there was no point where I consciously thought about that. I guess the thing is, with the earth segments, they’re largely expositional, they’re there to bring the reader up to speed and hopefully a fun and unfolding mystery way of why all this is going on in the first place. Right. And so I didn’t want to, I want to spend not too much time there. Because it’s fun for a while, but not forever, right. And so I wanted I you know, I liked the idea of skipping and skimming over time to just the highlights, you know, this is interesting. They, they’re, you know, nuking a big chunk of an Antarctic ice shelf to deliberately massively increase global warming. Yeah, it’s interesting. Yeah, that’s that’s quite a moment in engineering. Yeah. Leclerc. seat of your pants terraforming your own planet.
Yeah. And Leclerc, a lifelong environmentalist climatologist everything he can to prevent this exact stuff from happening is now the agent of it.
It’s always so so sad when a character that you like you sort of look into the future. And you’re like, Yeah, I don’t think things are gonna end up well for him.
You know, what law clerks long term goal was to was to work towards saving Earth’s environment. That’s true. And that’s what he was doing. No, it’s true. It’s true. It’s not the way he expected it.
Yeah. And if you’re feeling bad for Leclerc, just imagine after it, you know, after Earth gets the cure for Astrophysics and stuff like that. astrophysics is now a perfect clean, renewable energy resource. True.
Yeah. And what I loved in I believe it was about that scene that you mentioned that, that climate change and climatology like all of that is really a science that’s in its infancy, and I thought that was kind of I thought that was lovely. Have you point out because we tend to think of, oh, every six months, technology has advanced again and again and again. And we tend to forget that a lot of stuff that we know, has taken centuries. And you’re, and you’re right, we, we don’t give a lot of benefit to the fact that it is so young.
Well, also, planets are large. So predicting what’s going to happen across a system of that size is very difficult. And so that’s why I set the clerk up in the novel of being, you know, one of the biggest issues with climatology and why we, frankly, one of the main reasons we end up with climate denial, in my opinion, well, there’s always going to be one. There’s always going to be a demographic who just whatever. But I think there’s a middle demographic that’s kind of in climate denial, because climatologists are consistently wrong in their predictions. It happens all the time. I mean, you can dig up as many climate predictions as you want from the 1980s forward, and they’re pretty much all wrong, like or, or wrong to varying degrees that are like, Okay, this is not, I mean, this is like, almost like, you chose randomly what was gonna happen? So I set Leclerc up as being like a climatologist, who’s whose models correctly predicted the future climate, not super accurate, you know, not like, Oh, it’s gonna rain on Wednesday, but like, Oh, this is the amount of polar cap melt, you can expect. And this is the amount of oceanic rise you can expect. And this is the amount of like, average oceanic temperature, you can expect that sort of stuff. And his models were correct. Most others weren’t. So I wanted to introduce the scientist who’s like, I mean, I think there’s a general public understanding that climatology is really difficult and, and vague and the predictive aspects of it aren’t. We’re not very good at yet. So I wanted to introduce a character who is good at it. Yeah.
And by then it won’t be quite as young as it is today. So you only takes place modern day. I mean,
okay. Okay. I was thinking. I was I think I just because the Martian, we’ve got just around the corner, and then we’ve got like, what the 27 days? For 2018? Yeah.
This is now
I suppose that’s a that’s true. Right? Well, um, yes. So it ties into that, what? Then I recognize that this could come off as ego testicle. So I’m gonna try. And
Sandy, why am I beautiful? Right? You can’t explain this.
Look, yeah, that doesn’t just happen. Right?
So okay, so you have you are so great at doing real science and entertainment. And I just, it’s, I’ve always loved the historical in in books, and movies, and all of that. And I’ve only recently learned that I enjoy science, that was not something that I knew could be true, through at least college. And so it’s like, between him and between your books. And the Martian movie that I’ve really come to discover, oh, I can a understand this. And be I might not retain all of it. But I can be reminded, oh, yeah, you know, like, I got I got that. What is it that draws you to doing real science in all of your, in all of your entertainment? And and do you want to see more of that in the world from other people?
I guess the first part, I would say, I’m drawn to it, because I just I like it, you know, everybody has things that they’re interested in and passionate about, and that happens
to be mine. And so you know, you write the stuff that you’re interested in. But um, yeah, so I guess that’s just, it’s, it’s important to me. Yes, I know you want attention. But as for the other thing, yes. I would love there to be more hard sci fi, because that’s my favorite type of science fiction to read. After the Martian became a success. I thought, Oh, this will be great. Now, a bunch of, you know, hard sci fi Oh, come out. I can read it and enjoy it. And it didn’t happen. Yeah, nobody did that. And so I was like, well, the bad news is I don’t have anything fun to read. You know, it’s right in my wheelhouse. The good news is, I guess I own this market niche.
You do. We are also disappointed that other people haven’t been like, I feel like everyone’s relying on you to do it. And I’m so sorry. I also congratulate you.
Yeah, we actually, you know, with our show the synthesis. It’s all about a Examining real science in entertainment, and we, we started the show and we did you know, Apollo 13. And we checked out gravity, we checked out the Martian. And then there was a point at which we were like, there’s actually not that many things that we can talk about on this show like that. Eventually, you just start doing historical movies like The Right Stuff in October sky and those sorts of things where you start getting into more yellow, like, based on Yeah, exactly. Because stories like the Martian stories. Yeah, yeah, but but you sort of it’s it’s amazing how quickly you run out of hard sci fi movies and TV shows.
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fun thing you may or may not know, you guys are really into the subsidiary, you know, but one of the so they you know, for films, they always show them to preview audiences right beforehand and get feedback and then maybe even make changes. So it’s like they, they they do market testing and stuff like that. And for Apollo 13. They showed it to a bunch of people, and they got their feedback from it. And one of the pieces of feedback was, well, it was a cool movie, but it just seem to reel it to unrealistic. If that really happened. There’s no way the astronauts would survive. Yeah. Well,
in that same vein, and perhaps even more horrifying, I’m sure you saw I certainly did all the people and yeah, all the people who read the Martian or watch the Martian and then said, This is incredible. I can’t believe they didn’t cover this in our history class. Why didn’t our teachers tell us about this? There were like,
really disturbingly large number of people who thought the Martian was like, based on a true story. Yeah. Well, I guess congratulations. Yeah. A compliment. I’m pretty sure.
Yeah. You wrote something that’s so believable. It’s more believable than Apollo 13?
I guess so.
You know, that real science will do it
for you more realistic than Apollo 13? Yeah. Yeah.
So I want to I want to circle back to something you said a few minutes ago, which is, you talked about how you’re you change things to make solutions possible. Yeah. I’m curious. In in project, Hail Mary, or in your other books. Can you give us some examples of times where the story led you to a place that you just sort of hit a brick wall, and you’re like, oh, he would just die? Like there is no solution to this?
Yeah. I had. So in the Martian. Now, this is something that is more in the book than in the movies. So in the movie, when he goes from the area three landing site to the area for landing site, it’s just sort of a montage in the book, the dust on? Yeah, in the book, he come. He runs into a lot of issues. Yeah. So one of the ideas I had, among other things in the book, he rolls the rover. Yeah, yeah, rolling it down a hill, like, you know, sight overside and brakes, and edit, there’s all sorts of issues with that I was going to make him in that instance, he was also going to breach the RTG. So the radio thermo generator, anyway, RTG, it has a bunch of it is literally in a thing. It’s a bunch of material inside that is so incredibly radioactive, that it generates constant heat. And then that heat is used to create electricity. So that’s fine. And that’s that’s a real technology. That’s what’s powering curiosity and now and now perseverance. But I was going to have him break it and then there’d be Oh, God, radiation. Oh, okay. Well, I’ll put on my eeba suit, because it offers a lot of radiation protection, and I’ll throw the RTG away and then or something, right. Okay, so that was going to be one of the challenges he faced. But from then on, he would have to be without that RTG he wouldn’t have the heat source in his rover, he wouldn’t have the RTG helping recharge the rover and stuff like that. And all the numbers just told me there’s no way that he would survive that he would be consuming power. Just to keep warm, he would be consuming power fascinate faster than you can possibly acquire it. And so he would have died. Yeah, I just, I could not find any solution to that problem. And so I didn’t have that problem happened
to you. Just based on that alone? Do you have a lot of numbers that you run? Like you have to you have to do spreadsheets to just make sure. Are you like a spreadsheet King at this point for you? Right? I am, I am quite the king, I am the monarch of Excel. Well,
yeah, tons of spreadsheets, I do lots of math, I want everything to be accurate. And so I mean, the reader only encounters like, 5% of all the stuff that I do. And I just want it to be right so that I can feel warm, knowing it’s right. Also, the cool thing is, if you stick to real science, I mean, the universe is internally consistent. Yeah, if you make up physics, then you end up having to make up more physics to cover the edge cases of the physics you’ve already made up, and so on, but the you but if you just stick with reality, then it’s really cool. Because first off, you don’t have to make stuff up, you just calculate it. Second off, you’ll run into problems that you wouldn’t have thought of. So for instance, in the Martian, our hero, Mark Watney grows potatoes, as I’m sure you know, to survive. And originally, I was like, you know, okay, researching how to grow potatoes. And one little tidbit I saw was like, Oh, the moisture content of the soil needs to be at least this percent. And I’d never thought of that. Well, I was like, of course, you need to water them. But it’s more than that they need to be in a soil that is at least a given percent moisture, or the soil itself will Leach all the water out of the plant and kill it. I’d never thought of that. I’m like, wait a minute, how much water does he need to make that moisture. And I’m like, wait a minute, that’s a lot more more water than is likely for a Mars mission to bring with it. So he’s going to need water. And at the time I wrote it, it was believed that Mars was completely dry and arid. And so he had to manufacture water. So that whole subplot of him creating water was because I was going down a rabbit hole on how to grow potatoes.
And I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise. Now, and that little footnote to that is, so curiosity landed after I wrote the Martian, one of the first things it did was scoop up some soil and say, Hey, guys, there’s a shitload of water in here was irrelevant and inaccurate. But I can counter that by saying, curiosity is that is that Mount Sharp, which is nowhere near as adelia Phoenicia, which is where Mars Mark was. And so I say acid la punishes a desert, you know, I say that it, it has a different water content until somebody sends a probe there, they can’t prove me wrong.
That’s right. And it’s you know, it’s a it’s a big planet, and they’re not going to hit every spot, it might take a while.
That actually was going to be my next question. I’m sorry. Sorry to interrupt. Oh, there’s one thing you know. So after with the Martian was very popular. And of course, it was very popular with NASA and JPL, folks, right. And so, in the book, I say, the exact latitude and longitude in accidentally play the exact location of the areas three landing site. And Mark describes it. It’s like a featureless plane with like rocks here and there, and maybe a few craters, but other than that, there’s nothing going on. So JPL pointed Mars Global Surveyor, at that location, took a really super high resolution photograph where every pixel is a square foot. Oh, wow.
On the surface of Mars, yeah. And then said, Hey, everybody, this is where Mark Watney his landing site is. It doesn’t look anything like described in the book. You guys.
Scientist wasn’t expecting anybody to point a billion dollars satellite, Mars, terrify.
Maybe that’s what scares people from writing hard sci fi. Yeah.
Well, that it’s funny that you say that, because that was actually going to be my next question. You know, I’m a big fan of the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. And one of the things he has said is, you know, he wrote that book, and I think the 80s. And we obviously know a lot more about Mars now. And he has said things about the I don’t know how to spin out but perchlorates in the soil, great rates in the soil, things like that, that would have radically changed how the Mars trilogy would have gone down if he’d known at the time. Are there other examples of sort of future proofing your stories? Do you do anything to try to like, anticipate what might be discovered, but we don’t know. Yeah,
I really don’t. Because it’s kind of pointless, you know, to try to predict. I just focus on trying to make a novel that’s fun to read at the time that it’s released. If you’re writing speculative fiction about the future, you’re going to be wrong. Yeah, like it’s only a matter of time before your story is out of date. Like and another whatever. We’re in 14 years, we will reach the date that the Martian takes place. And when it doesn’t happen, my book will then be inaccurate. Right, right. Or Yeah. Yeah. So I don’t feel bad about that.
Yeah, that makes sense.
I mean, I, I’ll say, fine.
Okay. I’ve got one more question. Which is, you know, you are, I think undeniably known in the popular imagination. As a scientist, like I’ve seen you interviewing I’m not a scientist. Well, I mean, I guess but
yeah. But I mean, like, you know, for example, we did National Geographics. Mars, and you were one of the experts interviewed as in that. So, you know, people imagine you as someone heavily associated with science. That being said, You have also written you know, the Moriarty stories and things that are unrelated to science. I was one of the 5 billion people who read the Martian and fell in love with it. And when and then later went, wait, this is the guy who wrote the egg. I, everybody loved the egg. And then yeah, oh, yeah. So what I was wondering is, because you have, you know, what could be described as two natures, the storytelling, and then the science, but obviously, our one nature because you’re one guy. The Martian started out as figuring out the science that you wanted to figure out how this would work. And so you told the story to do that. Is that how you generally approach stories like Artemis and project Hail Mary, or do you start more from a story standpoint, hey, I want to tell a heist about this, you know, plucky girl on the moon, and then you come up with the engineering challenges that would arise from that?
No, I almost always, I mean, I always thus far start with the science. Like I’m like, here’s a neat thing that I want to think about. And then I start working out like I had. So for artemus, for instance, I designed and explained the economy of the entire city of Artemis, before he came up with any characters or story.
Like I’m like, Okay, now, I put a huge amount of work into a setting. Okay, now I need stuff to happen. And I actually, it took me a while to come up with a story to take place in there. Like I went through a lot of different Okay, what if this is the story and then I work on it for a while, and I it’s kind of down? How about this? You know, I had to go through a lot of revs before I came up with a plot that I like, interesting.
So are we go now I have heard you say that you have have considered writing multiple stories in Artemis. Is that still a plan?
I mean, for now, I think No, because it wasn’t as popular as I’d hoped. People are debases Andy wares other book, right. And I really, I really hoped it would be more popular than it is. I think jazz was such a self destructive person that a lot of people had a tough time rooting for her, because she really was the agent of her own problems. Yeah, no, I was trying to make a more nuanced main character with flaws and a story arc and maturing and personal growth. But I think I went a little too far. Also, what’s funny is Mark and jazz are both based on my own personality. Mark is the idealized version of me all the aspects of myself that I like, and none of my flaws, whereas jazz is as much of a fuckup as I was when I was her age. And turns out, I guess people will have a hard time rooting for a guy who is as much of a fuckup as I was at 26. People think jazz is some sort of masturbation fantasy of mine, but she’s really just me. I guess he really is. I mean, yes, she’s a woman and she’s Saudi and stuff like that. But her personality and most importantly, her flaws are the ones that I had when I was that age. Interesting.
I feel like people that need to go listen to the audio book. Yeah,
Rosario Dawson did a great job, no doubt about it. But if a book is only entertaining as an audio book, then that just means Rosario Dawson did a good job. Doesn’t mean I did a good job, right? So I need to make entertaining stories that that are good, even if you don’t have an A list actor reading them.
I mean, I suppose I hear that I have. I have rebuttals because I like it so much.
I’m glad you like it. I’m glad you like it. I got one thing that kind of sucked for me and I didn’t like is that if you’re a male author and you write a female lead, there’s a whole subsection of people who are just going to hyper focus on that. Yeah, like, let’s talk about how realistic this portrayal of a woman is yay or nay or whatever. And nobody questions. My you know how realistic my nail characters are, you know, frankly, it’s not realistic that Mark Watney would go, like so long on Mars alone in a day In a situation without ever, like without ever really losing his mind or succumbing to crippling loneliness or stuff like that, but everybody just kind of accepts that. But if you write the other gender, and then people, and suddenly, instead of like, you can write strat who’s the side character and nobody’s gonna question that. But the moment
we’ll see, I mean, I may get some on that. Although, yeah, I mean, yeah, so, and I do think that it’s a little asymmetrical. like nobody gets on JK Rowling for Harry Potter being unrealistic. Right? And I’m sorry, he’s a teenage guy who has this incredibly hot female friend never tries anything. And I’m sorry. Yeah, JK Rowling does not know what teenage boys are like. On the inside. She just doesn’t know how degenerate we are when we’re that age. Back me up on this, Alexander.
I’m sorry, a teenage boy who is not a pervert, that’s just female fantasy.
I agree with that. Yeah. I find a lot of them. I have a lot of.
Well, we well, we are huge fans of Artemis around here. Yes, we are.
Thank you. I’m glad to hear it. I did have ideas for Artemis sequels. I had an idea what I really wanted to do was make my follow up. I even pitched it. But the publisher said I wanted to make a murder mystery set in Artemis. And the main character is Rudy the Mountie, the car. Oh, yeah. That’d be the main character. Jazz would be secondary like she. So I had the idea of having different main characters within us. But, you know, my editor said, Yeah, that’s a neat concept. But this particular story is not that good. Oh, wow. It’s probably right. And he also said, like, Look, you’re a science guy. You, you know, you’re really good at that.
So if you write a murder mystery, and you could put a lot of work into writing a decent murder mystery, or you could write another really cool Brown, groundbreaking science thing. Right?
Now, I feel like you just need to send them the Moriarty stories again. And yet, like, here, allow me to be a scientist and disprove you.
Thank you very much. That’s nice. But I guess he didn’t much care for the story that I had in mind. But he’s open. They’re open to it. And of course, I mean, I could bully my way into it. I could just say, Well, this is the next book I’m writing. Yeah, publish it, because someone else probably will. Right. Yeah, but, but I didn’t want to do that. My editor is very good at this. And it’s wise of me to pay attention to what he has to say. Yeah, of course. Well,
maybe someday we’re just gonna have to see if we can’t find someone who can do like a hard science, hard sight, sci fi Anthology, and you can do short stories and want good sci fi mysteries. I mean, the the robots. The robots stuff from like, the caves of dawn series from Asimov is really good. Yeah, those are like science fiction, murder mysteries. And they’re good at both of those things. Make it okay. And I say robots, and I meant caves of steel. Robots of Dawn is the name of the third book in that. heaves of steel is the first book. Wow.
I’m gonna anyway, that recommendation. Yeah.
By Asimov. Who’s my favorite author of all time side note. But anyway, I do have ideas for project Hail Marys sequel.
Oh, very cool.
It lends itself to a sequel, you know? Yes.
There’s definitely a string setting, you know?
Oh, I’m so happy to hear you say that? Because I was like, I you know, you haven’t really done sequels yet. And so I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. But now they’re high. So just know that so you’re so I think what she’s saying is you’re committed. We’re now to be seen, but yeah, I will be writing your letters.
That’s not what I’m working on. Right now. I’m working on another standalone story, but okay.
I’m not not not really talking about it. Because I don’t know if that’s for sure what I’m going to do next. I want to get at least far enough into it that I feel like okay, yeah, this is working. This is what I’m gonna do. Good.
We we heard we heard an interview with you previously, where you talked about the value of writers not talking about their ideas. Yes. That’s all heartedly agree. As somebody who who has written and also makes games there’s definitely a loss of momentum that comes from telling people about them satisfies your need for an audience. And you’re like, Okay, I got that need next magic.
Need to get a movie and get like Andy Serkis in here to bring bring rocky to life. nothing
going on. Oh, really? Yeah. No Ryan Gosling is attached to play Grace. Okay, and we have Phil Lord and Chris Miller attached to direct drew Goddard’s working on the screen. Play right now. He wrote the adaptation for the Martian. Excellent. Oh, he’s good at what he does for sure. Yeah, Lord Miller, Phil Lord Chris Miller, they directed the 21 Jump Street movies out Lego movies into the spider verse.
MGM who’s doing it? They bought the rights for me outright. Not an option, not just a purchase. And that usually means you’re taking it seriously, but you never know.
Oh my god is gratulations. Yeah. And also congrats to us. We get to watch an amazing, awesome. Oh, wonderful. Well, thank you for joining us. This has been for having most excellent. Yes, it has.
We’ve enjoyed this thoroughly. Yes.
And thank you for writing project Hail Mary.
It was reading project.
Good luck with the launch of the book. Thank you. All right. Thank you, Andy.