A heist story set on the moon? That’s the intriguing sci-fi crime premise at the heart of Andy Weir’s latest novel, ARTEMIS, now out in paperback.
You probably know Weir’s name from his first sci-fi novel, a plucky indie-publishing to Hollywood success known as THE MARTIAN. Rather than trying to carbon copy that novel’s success trajectory, Weir lets ARTEMIS be a different type of story—one that has plenty of action, while also examining the politics and economics of space colonization.
We chatted with Weir about ARTEMIS and what it was like to write a crime story set in space.
RECURSOR: Although both novels feature appealing protagonists overcoming problems with science and resourcefulness, ARTEMIS is a crime story, while THE MARTIAN is a story of survival. What drew you to write two different stories rather than sticking with one specific subgenre of sci-fi?
WEIR: Sci-fi survival has a limited amount of unique things you can do with it. And I wouldn’t want to write another book that just seemed to be a retread of THE MARTIAN. I wanted to write something else.
Do you read/write more crime or more survival stories? Which do you prefer?
Oh, definitely crime stuff. I like crime documentaries, heist stories, etc. To be fair, though, there’s a lot more of that available than survival tales—mainly because there are only so many unique variations on “person alone in the wild” that you can do.
Did you have specific books or films in mind as you wrote ARTEMIS?
Actually, yes. One of my main inspirations was the film CHINATOWN. That may seem like an odd connection, but there actually is a core similarity. CHINATOWN is one of my favorite films of all time, and one of the core plot elements is basically “ugly nasty stuff has to happen for a city to grow.”
One aspect of ARTEMIS that impressed us was how much world-building went into developing the city and its backstory. What inspired the setting?
The setting is what I started with! I love doing the science and tech aspects of a story. Research and speculation is fun. It’s that pesky plot and character stuff that’s real work.
For ARTEMIS, I started with the idea of “I want to design a city on the Moon.” So I started by working out what economics drive there to be a city in the first place, then worked outward from there.
Was the process for writing ARTEMIS different than for THE MARTIAN? How so?
Yes, very different. For starters, THE MARTIAN was a labor of love — something I did on nights and weekends while working a regular job. ARTEMIS was a straight-up book deal from day one. And by then I had quit my day job, so ARTEMIS was my whole job.
Also, I posted THE MARTIAN to my website a chapter at a time and got a lot of feedback as the story developed. For ARTEMIS, I didn’t have that option.
It’s not that big a deal to miss out on the feedback mid-writing, but I do miss the fact-checking. One of the reasons THE MARTIAN is so scientifically accurate is that any science or math errors would be caught by my readers and reported to me. In ARTEMIS, I didn’t have that luxury, so there are a couple of mistakes.
Given the well-deserved success of the film adaptation of THE MARTIAN, did the possibility of adapting ARTEMIS to film affect your writing process?
I didn’t let that affect my process. I figure my job is to write books, not movies. If I want to write a movie, I’ll make a screenplay and hand it over to people who might be interested. You should never write a story with some future adaptation or sequel in mind. Tell the story you want to tell. It’s up to other people to adapt it if it comes to that.
We love Jazz as a strong female lead. Did you have any actors in mind who served as inspiration in writing Jazz?
No, I didn’t consider anyone for a role as Jazz. I didn’t even think of the book as a film. I don’t have a director’s eye for things. I just have concepts and ideas in my head. When I finished THE MARTIAN, I still had no mental image of what Mark Watney looked like. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you his hair color, eye color, height, or anything else.
Welding is a huge part of ARTEMIS. Do you have any special interest in it, or was it simply required as part of the plot?
I wanted Jazz to come from blue-collar roots. And I wanted a plot point where she breaks into a place by attaching a makeshift airlock to the side of a dome. So I made her the daughter of a welder. Things grew organically from there — the mentoring her father did as she grew up, how he wanted her to inherit the business, and so on.
There are so many great story details that make the reader’s experience immersive, like the fact that because coffee can’t steep due to the lack of pressure, moon coffee will taste bad. How important are scientific details like this to your writing? How do you research them?
I love doing research and speculation. And I love to think about the little details fn the day-to-day life of people in extraordinary situations. The coffee was just one example of that.
One of our audience members had a question about the cover: “If the Sun is on the left, why isn’t the crescent of light on the left too?” Do you consider the cover artwork scientifically accurate? Are there other concerns beyond accuracy that come into play in the writing and marketing of sci-fi books that you take into account as you write?
I have virtually no say over the cover art — that’s a marketing decision made by the publisher. They want something that will stand out on a bookshelf and grab people’s attention. And no, the cover is definitely not accurate. For starters, none of the features shown match any part of the Moon.
ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.