Review: Weir focuses on the Moon with ‘Artemis’
Over the course of the past year, public and private officials have altered their focus from Mars to a much closer target – Earth’s Moon. Now, Andy Weir, whose breakout success was based on the adventures of a castaway on the Red Planet, has followed suit with his latest offering – Artemis.
It would appear that his latest offering has already caught the attention of movie-makers, who helped propel Weir’s The Martian to stellar heights as movie rights for the film have been picked up by 20th Century Fox and New Regency. SpaceFlight Insider wanted to find out more about the book as well as Weir’s efforts and spoke with the author at length about his new book.
SFI: Can you tell us why you started off with a mission to Mars and then decided to go ‘back’, for want of a better word, to the Moon?
Weir: “Sure! Well, The Martian is about exploration and Artemis is about colonization. So, I really think that the first place that we’ll colonize outside of Earth is going to be the Moon. So, when people write books about Mars colonies and all the problems they will likely face and things like that, I always think, ‘Well wouldn’t there already be a lunar colony that has gone through a lot that? Wouldn’t they have learned these lessons by now?’
“So, I wanted to write a book about the first non-Earth city and, logically, I can only imagine that it would be on the Moon. So, that’s where it is.”
SFI: Following up on that, there seems to be a bit of tug of war in terms with NASA being directed to go to the Moon, then Mars, and now it appears they’re being directed back to the Moon again – what is your take on why that is?
Weir: “That is always going to be the case as administrations come and go and that’s not a new thing, by the way, NASA has been suffering from that all along. They were told to do more Apollo missions and then they were told, ‘Oh, never mind, work on Skylab’; then it was, ‘Now you got to work on Space Shuttle’, and then it was work on the next thing after the Space Shuttle. Then it was, ‘Wait, wait, wait! Work on the ISS!’, and then the Shuttles were literally falling out of the sky – now you can start working on the Shuttles’ replacement.
“So NASA gets really inconsistent directives as administrations come-and-go. The solution to that, in my mind, is commercial space flight. They want to make a buck and they’re immune to the change of administrations.”
SFI: Is that really the case? Commercial companies require customers and who, outside of governments, have the budget to fund flights into space, to destinations such as the Moon and Mars?
Weir: “Yes, it’s true. If commercial companies are able to drive the cost of flying to low-Earth orbit down to something that middle-class people can afford, they’ll make an enormous amount of money.”
SFI: What was the impetus behind “Artemis” and what can readers expect to find when they’re reading it?
Weir: “The impetus behind it was I wanted to write a cool story about people living on the Moon; I never have a deeper meaning or anything to my stories – it’s just ‘Ooh, neat!’
“The economic premise or basis of Artemis is tourism and is based [on] the assumption that the cost to launch to orbit has been driven down to something that middle-class people can afford. Once that happens, it’s actually not that much more expensive to then travel to the Moon. I did a whole economic analysis and everything, estimating what would that [cost] shows what would be required [to] drive the cost of low-Earth orbit down to for this to happen. It turns out that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.”
SFI: What about the startup?
Weir: “[…] it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build the first parts of Artemis – but that’s the sort of things that companies would invest in if they thought that they could turn a profit on it. So, that’s kind of the economic foundation of it; then I’m like, alright, I got a city here, here’s its economy, everything out of the city comes from the economy. So where do we go from there? So, what do they do for a living? Okay, there’s a tourism industry, but someone has got to clean the toilets, someone has to cook the food, and so on.
“As to what readers can expect out of Artemis, just a good old-fashioned space adventure ala Heinlein or Asimov or Clark. It’s not going to make you see life in a whole new way – it’s just going to, well, I’ll let you read the book!”
SFI: “The Martian” had Matt Damon and a lot of other big-named stars in it – “Artemis” already has a movie deal in the works – how does it make you feel when your books are picked up right away and turned into major motion pictures? Let’s be honest, the general public isn’t too interested in pop culture unless it deals with Kim Kardashian or Honey Boo Boo. Does that provide you with hope for the future in terms of how the public views space?
Weir: “I guess it comes to that I’m just happy that people like my stuff; of course, I’m happy that movie studios want to make films out of this. I think the main reason they’re so interested in Artemis is because The Martian did so well. In terms of people liking Honey Boo Boo, etc., there are some 350 million people in this country and there are a lot of different interests all across the spectrum […] I don’t know about thinking about the future, but I’m not worried. I don’t define people liking my book as we (humanity) having a bright future, that would be kind of arrogant.
“I think that as we move forward, things get better. One of the rhetorical questions I like to ask is ‘Would you like to be alive now, 1917, or 1817, or 1717, or even multiple hundreds of years back in the past?’ Pretty much anyone I ask that of, after a brief amount of time, say, ‘Oh, now – I want to stay here!’ Then I ask them, what if you were forced to go back in time – when would it be? As a rule, they generally say 1917. The premise being, it’s better to be forward, more modern, in time. I think people in 2117 won’t want to come back to 2017, but [they] would choose it over 1917.”
SFI: I’m not even sure that this will make the interview, but probably one of the things a majority of the public would do without is math problems. However, “The Martian” made math problems interesting, you broke it down in a way that everyone can understand and relate to – will there be some of that in “Artemis”?
Weir: “Yes, there is math and science in Artemis, all of the science is accurate, everything of the design of the Moonbase is accurate and it can be constructed using today’s technology, etc. There’s a little less of the problem-solving elements you asked about as Artemis isn’t a survival story. In The Martian, he just constantly had to solve these problems one after the other or he would die – so the stakes were high and the problems were plentiful – but in Artemis, the problem-solving stems from the main character wanting to accomplish this thing and she needs to determine why this or that happened.”
SFI: What do you think the public should know about this new book?
Weir: “As I noted earlier, I never have a deeper meaning when producing my books. When they finish Artemis, I hope they look at it and say, ‘Yeah, that was cool!’ And that is, literally, it – that’s my only objective. I believe that the job of a writer is to entertain. I don’t like the trend of preaching in novels, that’s not my thing.”
SFI: We’re going to let you run as we know you’re very busy, but we want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
Weir: “Sure thing, no worries at all.”
Artemis is being produced by Crown and will be on sale starting November 14, 2017. Coming in at 320 pages, the novel retails for $27.00 and is highly recommended as the latest addition to any space aficionado’s library.
Weir lives in California and has worked for 20 years as a software engineer until his first novel, The Martian, became a runaway success both in bookstores and at the box office. Weir‘s personal interests alone have provided the ‘grist for the mill’ and the technical accuracy that his work is noted for. Relativistic physics, history, and orbital mechanics are all cornerstones of the author’s written work.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.