Did Robinson Crusoe influence this wonderful story?
Not directly. Certainly the concept of being stranded on your own and having to use your wits to survive is not new. Man versus nature is a fairly common theme in a lot of fiction when you think about it, but I didn’t take inspiration from Robinson Crusoe specifically. And, of course, the movie Apollo 13 has a similar theme to The Martian, but that was based on true life events of the 3rd American moon landing. The Martian, being fictional, is able to be a much larger scale and longer tale of survival.
This is science fiction but it reads almost like a factual account. How much research did you need to do into the possibility of human survival on Mars?
I’ve been a space nerd my whole life, so I started out with a fair bit of knowledge on the topic already. I love following events in the space industry. Not just NASA, but other country’s agencies and private ventures as well. Anything relating to spaceflight. Even so, I did a ton of research for the book, as well as lots of thought-experiment science for the various solutions Mark came up with. A thought experiment is where you set out a theory (i.e. how do you grow potatoes on Mars) just to think through all the consequences.
The plot twists are ingenious. Did you work them all out in advance or just go with the flow as you wrote?
I went with the flow. I tried to have the solution to each problem be the root cause for the next. I didn’t just want Watney to be unlucky over and over again – I wanted it to be plausible. The Martian actually started out as a serial story I posted to my website chapter by chapter.
Will you stick with this genre, or break out into some other literary field?
I will certainly stick to science fiction. I’ve always been a huge fan of the genre from the classic Sci-Fi writers of the 1950s and 1960s like Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov, to modern SF movies and TV shows. Sometimes, when someone posts my story “The Egg” online, they accidentally attribute it to Asimov. Being confused with him is the single greatest compliment I have ever received. I also love Doctor Who – I have an embarrassingly large amount of knowledge about the show and have seen literally every episode. Though, that said, my next book might not be so firmly rooted in real science. Real science is great and adds tremendous plausibility to a story, but it’s also very limiting on plots and stories!