Three years after releasing The Martian — six if you count when he first self-published his debut novel about an astronaut who’s stranded on Mars — writer Andy Weir is taking another trip to outer space with his new novel, Artemis (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). But while you might expect this book to be about an astronaut who’s accidentally stranded on, oh let’s say Venus, or maybe Mercury, Weir has actually taking a left turn and veered this new sci-fi tale into the realm of the crime novel.
Photo Credit: John Weir
Let’s start with the basics: What is Artemis about?
Artemis takes place about seventy years in the future in a city on The Moon. The main character is a woman who’s a small-time criminal and she gets in way over her head.
Where did you get the original idea for Artemis, and how different is the finished novel from that initial idea?
I started by designing a moon city. Why it exists economically, how it would grow, its history — albeit short; it’s only twenty years old — and the like. But the finished novel is nothing like my original idea for the story. The main character of the finished novel, Jazz Bashara, was originally intended to be a minor side character. But as I worked through multiple story ideas, I noticed that Jazz was becoming more and more prominent. I realized she was the most interesting part of each story idea, so I decided to center the story around her entirely. From there, the plot ideas flowed really well.
Artemis is set on The Moon. But it seems to me that it could just as easily been set on Mars or some other planet. Do you agree, or do you think it would’ve been a very different story if it took place somewhere else?
I’m not sure it would work anywhere other than The Moon. Artemis’s economic base is tourism. It’s close to the Apollo 11 landing site. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, but one that’s attainable by a determined middle class person. It takes a week to get there and a week to get back. But Mars is way too far for a vacation. With months of travel time, an economy like Artemis simply couldn’t exist.
So why did you decide to write a novel that take place on The Moon? Or was it more than you decided to write a story set on The Moon and this is what you came up with?
The latter. I wrote a book about Mars, and that was great fun. But I love space exploration in all its forms, and The Moon is just as exciting to me as Mars. Maybe more so because it’s almost certainly the first extraterrestrial body that humanity will colonize.
Stylistically, does Artemis get as detailed with the science as The Martian did?
The science in Artemis is every bit as accurate as the science in The Martian. More so, actually. For The Martian, I had to progress certain technologies quite a bit. Especially ion propulsion. But for Artemis, the only tech assumption is that the price to low-Earth orbit will be driven down by commercial spaceflight companies.
However, Artemis isn’t a survival story like The Martian. So, while the science is there — and hopefully accurate — it’s not nearly so central as it was to The Martian.
Given your attention to detail in The Martian, I assume you did some research into what life on The Moon would be like, and how it would work. Were there any particular books or documentaries that you found really helpful?
Yes, I did quite a lot of research. But mostly it was on the nitty-gritty of how the city would function. Like: how to smelt aluminum from local ores available on The Moon. Or how to make glass. That sort of thing. Mostly it was just web searches like I usually lean toward.
As for Artemisian society itself, that was the fun part that I got to just make up. It’s a very international frontier town with limited laws.
Did you ever have to sacrifice scientific reality for the sake of the story, though?
I don’t believe I did. I’m sure there are mistakes here and there, but I didn’t make any deliberate concessions for storytelling purposes.
Like The Martian, Artemis is told from the first-person perspective. What is it about that viewpoint that you like so much?
I love first-person. It’s almost like cheating. It lets me talk to the reader in a conversational tone instead of the semi-formal style that most omniscient narration takes. Plus it allows the reader insight into the mind of the main character in ways that just aren’t possible otherwise.
Are there any writers, or specific books, that you feel were a big influence on either what you wrote in Artemis, or how you wrote it, but who were not an influence on The Martian?
There’s a little bit of Terry Pratchett in there, I think. The no-bullshit, practical attitudes of the residents of Artemis is very similar to the feel of some Discworld characters. Pratchett is one of my favorite authors of all time.
You’ve also said that Artemis is a crime story, so I’m curious what crime writers had an impact on it.
I was more influenced by movies and TV than any novels in this case. I was greatly influenced by Robert Town’s [screenplay for the 1974 movie] Chinatown. Showing the seedy, nasty stuff that has to happen for a city to grow. That’s exactly what Artemis is about.
They considered a number of potential narrators for the role, and decided to go with Rosario. I was consulted on it, but the final decision wasn’t mine to make. Though I’m thrilled to have her doing the narration. I’ve heard a lot of it, and she did a fantastic job.
Now, when I interviewed you three years ago, when The Martian was about to come out [which you can read here], I asked why you had made the main character a man instead of a woman, and you said, “I did consider making him a woman… [but] I guess I just wanted to stick to what I know. Mark is a geeky, sarcastic guy, similar to my own personality.” So this begs the question, why is the main character of Artemis a woman?
As I said, Jazz was originally going to be a side character. But as I went through idea after idea, I kept coming back to her. She was just so interesting and compelling. As she grew in prominence in the story, I just rolled with it and made her the lead. By then she was so cemented in my mind that I couldn’t imagine changing her into a man. So I found myself writing a female, Arabic main character with a devoutly Muslim father. All sorts of stuff I know nothing about. I consulted a lot of women and Muslims to make it as authentic as I could. But in the end, I was definitely in unfamiliar territory.
As you undoubtedly know, having books be part of a larger saga is a big thing in sci-fi these days. So, is Artemis the first book in a series or a stand-alone novel?
I would love to make Artemis a series. I have all kinds of ideas for it. But I want to hold off and see how well-received it is before working on the next book. If people don’t like it, I won’t make more. If they do like it, I’ll try to work out how much of that is their interest in Jazz and how much is interest in Artemis itself. I’d love to have it as a setting for lots of different stories about multiple characters.
I mentioned earlier that I’m a huge admirer of Terry Pratchett. Well, I’d love for Artemis to be my Discworld. I’d like it to go on and on. It wouldn’t be a single contiguous story. Each book would be its own story, possibly with its own main character.
Another big thing these days is the idea of a shared universe. So, does Artemis take place in the same universe as The Martian?
I never defined if they’re in the same universe or not.
Speaking of those kinds of connections, two years ago, when I interviewed Ernest Cline about his then new novel Armada, he told me that you had written some Ready Player One fan fiction. Does that mean that Ernest is going to be writing some Artemis fan fic?
Ha! I have no idea. He’s pretty busy lately with the upcoming Ready Player One film, which I’m very excited to see. But I’d love for him to write Artemis fanfiction. That’d be awesome!
Obviously, The Martian has already been made into a movie. Has anyone shown interest in doing the same for Artemis?
Fox has already bought the film rights to the book. But beyond that, I don’t think anything’s been done yet. My guess is they’ll wait to see how well the book does before taking a film adaptation seriously.
If Artemis does get made into a movie, who would you like to see them cast as Jazz and the other main characters?
I often get asked questions about casting, but I honestly have no idea. When I write, I don’t have a strongly visual notion of what the characters look like. I would like Jazz to be played by a woman who is at least the right skin tone to be of Saudi descent.
Lastly, if someone enjoys Artemis, and they’ve already read The Martian, what would you suggest they read while waiting for your inevitable novel about Venus to come out?