Following on the success of 'The Martian,' Weir is back with a second novel set in a bustling Moon city.
Andy Weir. Image: Aubrie Pick
Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian, along with its blockbuster film adaptation, revealed that there is a healthy appetite for protagonists who can “science the shit” out of life on alien worlds. For Mark Watney, Weir’s marooned astronaut on Mars, that meant surviving in the barren wasteland of the Red Planet alone, with limited resources and uncertain rescue options.
In contrast, the star of Weir’s newly published novel Artemis, Jazz (Jasmine) Bashara, inhabits a lush and bustling colony—though like Watney, she depends on her technical wits to navigate it. Out from Crown on Tuesday, the book takes place in the titular town of Artemis, the first metropolitan outpost on the Moon, which supports a population of 2,000.
Consisting of five spherical buildings called “bubbles,” named after Apollo astronauts, Artemis provides a permanent home to working-class residents like Jazz, who rents a cramped apartment in Conrad Bubble, while also attracting fantastically wealthy tourists and dignitaries who enjoy the luxury resorts of Aldrin Bubble.
Though she originally hails from Saudi Arabia, Jazz has spent most of her life on the Moon, and considers herself an Artemisian. Officially, she works as a porter—a delivery job that helpfully allows Weir to map out the town for the reader—but she’s not adverse to diversifying her professional portfolio with a touch of smuggling, and other illicit activities, on the side.
When she is offered a lucrative criminal job, Artemis ramps up into a frantic cat-and-mouse chase in lunar gravity, punctuated by Weir’s trademark snarky humor and penchant for bouts of spontaneous engineering. Throughout the novel, Weir meticulously details the technical design and cultural norms of the lunar community, from its life support systems to its unique currency, distinguishing Artemis one of the most keenly realistic Moon towns in fiction.
Weir fielded some questions about Artemis for Motherboard, and will be on the road over the next several weeks in case you’d like to ask him a few of your own.
MOTHERBOARD: What initially inspired Artemis? In some ways, the book feels like a thematic sequel to The Martian, so I'm curious if it was a story you had wanted to tell even before your debut's success, or if it developed afterward?
Andy Weir: I’m a sci-fi kind of guy so naturally I wanted to write more in that genre. And I accidentally carved out a niche for myself in real-science sci-fi, so Artemis has that same flavor. I developed Artemis after The Martian. I wanted to write a story about the first human colony off of Earth. That was my starting point.
Your novels' two protagonists, Mark Watney and Jazz Bashara, face very different challenges and environments in their respective worlds. But their arcs are similarly shaped by their resourceful ingenuity and survivalist instincts. What interests you about this archetype of the death-defying interplanetary MacGyver?
Problem-solving is fun. Both for the writer and the reader. The objective is for me to present the reader with a problem, then solve it in a way they didn’t expect, all without hiding any information about the solution from them. In a way, it’s actually similar to murder mysteries. You have all the information—can you solve it?
Your work is known for its technical verisimilitude, and Artemis is filled with details about how a lunar city might operate. Where did you start in terms of planning out the nuts and bolts of the city? Where there any engineering constraints that were particularly tricky to figure out?
The main constraint was mass. While shipping stuff to the Moon is cheaper in the fictional setting of Artemis than it is in real life, it’s still quite expensive. So the construction of the city had to do everything possible to minimize how much mass had to be brought in from Earth. To that end, they have to refine ores available on the Moon to make the metal for the hulls, etc. It was a fun exercise to work out how they built the city. I figured out all those details, but only about one percent of that is in the book. Only the parts that are salient to the plot.
Artemis has its own distinct culture, and Jazz has a strong sense of identity as an Artemisian. But the book also plays with the idea that humans will bring Earth habits and vices with them wherever they go. Do you think that striking this balance could be an issue for future human space colonization? Should some of our Earth behaviors and attitudes be checked at the door (or airlock)?
Human nature is what it is. Artemis is no different than any other frontier town. We’ve seen the same stuff play out every time there’s a colonization or expansion in human history. There’s no way to simply tell people to change their beliefs or behaviors. “Managed” societies never work out. Any time you have a central authority micromanaging the morality of a populace you inevitably end up with a pretty bad situation.
Space commentators have pointed out that a political split has developed in US space policy, in which Democrats generally favor human missions to Mars and Republicans favor returning humans to the Moon. Do you think this is spectacle, or is there a looming conflict over which destination to prioritize?
I think the future of humanity in space lies with private industry, not national space programs. The best thing we can do right now is try to drive down the cost of putting mass into low Earth orbit. And the best way to do that is to have NASA and other space agencies get out of the business of making boosters. Contract that out to competitive bids. Companies like SpaceX and Boeing will rise to the challenge and compete to make cheaper boosters.
From there, everything gets better. NASA has more money left over to spend on the actual spacecraft and the world moves closer to the magic point where commercial spaceflight is affordable to the middle-class. Once that happens, we’ll have a new multi-trillion-dollar industry.
So in answer to the question “Moon or Mars?” my answer is that it doesn’t matter. Any excuse to prod the commercial space industry is good.
As an author who has set books on both worlds, would you rather see a crewed Mars or Moon mission?
I would rather see a manned Mars mission. But if we’re going to talk about a permanent installation, I would rather see that on the Moon.
One of the most vivid images in the book is the Apollo 11 landing site, which is an archeological tourist attraction at Artemis, almost like a Space Age Stonehenge. Was it always clear to you that Artemis should be set near the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility region, or did you have a few other ideas for locations before settling on it?
I did kick around the idea of putting Artemis near the Apollo 12 site instead. It would have been near the Riphean Mountains, in the shadow of one of the main peaks. That way it would have spent almost three weeks out of every month in the shade, which would have made heat management easier.
But then I did some more math and realized the meter of crushed regolith between the two hulls would act as a major insulator so heat management wasn’t that big a deal. So I moved it to Tranquility. Apollo 11 is a more interesting site with a more important history, so if your economy is based on tourism you may as well build where the people want to go.
Moon villages seem to be having a moment; there are multiple public and private concepts for crewed lunar surface and orbital stations in the works. Speculatively speaking, would you want the first human settlements on the Moon to resemble Artemis, or is a town like Artemis best left for fiction?
I do believe they’ll be similar to Artemis. There’s nothing in the story that’s contrary to basic economics or human nature. The details will be different, of course, and the shape and technology of the eventual real-world city will probably not resemble Artemis at all, but the culture will be similar, I suspect.
Following up on that, if Artemis did exist, is there a particular Bubble that you'd want to live in? The luxury neighborhood of Shepard Bubble sounds nice.
Well sure. If I had the money to live in Shepard Bubble, that would be sweet.
Last, what's next for you? A film adaptation of Artemis is already in development , but do you have any other novels in the works at the moment? Venus is certainly dying to be a setting for a good science fiction novel.
I would love to write more stories that take place in Artemis. Not necessarily with the same set of characters. What I really want is my own personal sandbox to play around in. Like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Many stories with many different people that share a common setting. So if Artemis does well, you can expect more books that take place there.
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