The Bridge: An Interview with Andy Weir

Wed, May 01, 2024

In an interview for the spring 2024 issue of The Bridge, Andy Weir, author of The Martian, Artemis, Project Hail Mary, and Cheshire Crossing discusses his journey from computer programmer to New York Times bestselling science fiction author. The full interview is available for viewing on the NAE YouTube channel. Segments from Weir’s interview are noted below.

Weir3.gifBackground in Computer Science
My father was a physicist, and my mother was an electrical engineer, so I was pretty much doomed to be a nerd from the start…[but] my mom is much more into literature. I guess you could say that’s how I came to be a half-literature, half-science nerd.

When the time came to go to college, I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go into creative writing or the fairly new field of computer science, because I’m that old. I decided I liked regular meals, so I went into computer science. 

I attended UC San Diego’s BS program for computer science for four years. And then I ran out of money and dropped out, so you are speaking to a high school graduate. That’s my highest accreditation.

Transitioning from Programming to Writing
I was writing the whole time I was programming computers. I ended up being an engineer for twenty-five years total. But I was also always writing during that time: short ­stories, novels, web comics, et cetera.  I posted them on my website once the internet became a thing. 

The Martian was just one of those things that I was writing, but it really took off. Once
 The Martian snowballed and became a book and a movie and everything, I found myself in a position where I could write full time. That’s what I do now.

Writing with the Engineer’s Mindset
Being a computer geek allowed me to write software to double check the math in my fiction. So all the orbital trajectories in The Martian are accurate…Working in computer programming gave me the technical skills to write very technically accurate prose.

Another thing is that my writing style is similar to my programming style. When I’m designing software, I come up with the top-level ideas…[then] get into the specifics of the design. When I’m writing fiction it’s pretty much the same thing. I have the top-level idea of the story, but it’s while I’m actually writing the story that I come up with the detailed level.

Oftentimes, same as in programming, when I’m implementing [ideas], I realize there’s a better way to do something, and then I delete what I’ve done and work on a different approach. When you have an engineer’s mindset and you enter the world of literature, you’re used to turning in a project and then being given a list of bugs.

Origins of Weir’s Bestselling Books
In my stories, I tend to like person-versus-nature plots, where there is no bad guy. In The Martian, it’s just all of humanity or a group of ­people working together to try to solve a problem, but there’s no antagonist other than Mars.

In Project Hail Mary, my latest book, a non-intelligent, monocellular pathogen is the main problem… a technology called black matter, and what it does is absorb any electromagnetic radiation.

If you had a little bit of black matter, you could get more…and then it could release that in the form of gamma rays…you could use that as propulsion…and that’s mass conversion as a fuel source.

Weir2.gifIt’s basically a perfect battery source…But I didn’t see any way that we could invent this technology in the modern day…And so I said, well, what if some black matter ended up in our solar system, not via an alien ship, but we just find some on the surface of a planet somewhere.

And [then] I thought…how does [black matter] even work? I was like, well, it takes energy and makes more of itself. That sounds like a lifeform…It’s basically mold that grows on the surface of stars and then spores out in all directions to try to reach other stars. It doesn’t have an agenda or anything.

In the back of my head I was like, oh, we’d have to make sure none of that got into the Sun because that would be disastrous. It would breed out of control. I thought, that’s the story. And so that’s how I stumbled into that plot – bit by bit, thinking about the details of…the star-eating bacteria.

Thoughts on AI
I’m working on my next book now. AI plays a significant role in it. Writing a story that involves AI is kind of in my wheelhouse because I know how computers work.  And I know more about machine learning than most fiction writers, I think. So yes, I’m having some fun with that. 

I consider all technology to be a tool. AI is no different. A tool is a tool. What matters is how people use it… Try to name a technology that’s done more harm than good. You say nuclear bombs; I say nuclear power. How much coal dust is not in the air? How much pollution and emissions are not in the air because nuclear power plants exist? How many people did not die in coal mines over the past fifty years?

I guess I’m a bit of a ­Pollyanna, but I think humanity is inherently good. For every one bad actor, there’s 1000 good actors…And we have an inherent desire to, when you see a new tool, figure out how you can use that tool to help people.

To view the full interview with Andy Weir click here. To read the full interview with Andy Weir in the 2024 spring issue of The Bridge click here.