Can we “science the shit” out of storytelling?

I loved the movie The Martian. It’s based on Andy Weir’s debut novel “The Martian” I read the book first. Andy described it as basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars without the monkey. So I got curious about his writing process.  He LOVES science, so did he use storytelling science to create this story?

I listened to several interviews.  He loved science fiction- still does.  Andy learned about space travel because he loves space travel.  He read and consumed every documentary he could find.  He is such a cheerful science nerd his interviews are charming to watch. He says he made it up the story as he went along.  Yes, he had planned the final scene, but when he got there “it couldn’t happen,” so he made up a new one.

His day job was coding software, writing was no more than a hobby. He published web comics, short stories and the first copies of The Martian for free on his own website. He wrote one chapter at a time until it was a book (technically his third) putting it on Amazon, more to make it easy to download (at the minimum: 99 cents) than to make money on it. Sales attracted a publisher to knock on his door, not the other way around.  He did nothing to promote it. He’d already taken a couple of years off to be a writer and considered it a failure, so he was back to treating it as a hobby.

He refers to the plot as “man vs nature, where nature gets the first punch” or so he knows a lot about storytelling. He probably studied storytelling as much as he studied science during his two years being a writer.  But the lead character ,Mark Watney didn’t come out of some algorithm, Mark is an idealized version of Andy – with Andy’s passion, enthusiasm, and a cheerful smart ass personality.  The character feels real, because he’s based on a real person.  Story arises from origins (like chemical elements) that can’t be science-ed up from scratch.  They exist already. The elements: human, unpredictable, and personal emotional experiences we feel compelled to share exist already.  Science can tell us how to mix them for particular effects, but not how to make them from scratch.


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