Andy Weir's Artemis, The Martian sequel, sets up heist on the moon
Andy Weir’s best-selling novel The Martian told the nerve-wracking story of Mark Watney, an astronaut left behind on Mars (as played by Matt Damon in the film). In his new book, Artemis, Weir sends us into space again.
Though, this time, he scripts a heroine, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashira, who lives on the moon city of Artemis, where she works as a courier, helping get smuggled goods to people. Weir speaks about his novel, and the not-so-distant possibility of lunar colonisation.
Tell us a bit about Artemis and the inspiration behind it.
Artemis takes places in a city on the moon in the late 21st century. The main character is a woman who is a small-time criminal, and she gets in way over her head.
You’ve already taken us to Mars. In Artemis, you take readers to the moon. Why the change in location?
Because this story is about colonisation, not exploration. And I think we will colonise the moon before we colonise Mars. While Mars has more raw materials, the moon is just so much closer, it’s considerably easier to colonise. Also, unlike Mars, the moon could be a tourist destination, due to the comparatively short travel time to get there.
What are some of the similarities between The Martian and Artemis? And the differences?
They’re similar in that they both involve scientific solutions to complicated scientific problems, but The Martian was a straight-up human versus nature story, where the goal was simple survival. Artemis is a crime story with mysteries involved—a plot that was harder to write but also more interesting, I think.
Mark Watney’s voice defined The Martian. In Artemis we meet Jazz Bashara. Tell us about her.
She’s another first-person-smart-ass narrator. But, while Mark is a hard-working scientist trying to stay alive, Jazz is a sneaky criminal trying to get ahead.
She was a delinquent growing up, and now she realises that she made a lot of mistakes in her youth and she’s trying to make up for them. She is flawed in a lot of ways, but hopefully also likeable. So, very different personalities and priorities.
How did you go about creating this fictional world on the moon? Walk us through your process: What kind of research was involved, do you have a map of Artemis, did you create a character storyboard?
Creating Artemis was actually a lot of fun. It’s one of those things where I spent weeks and weeks carefully crafting all the details of the city, of which the reader will see about one per cent in the story. I worked out the foundations of the economics and why it works, why the city actually exists there, why everything is. And yes, absolutely, I have a pretty detailed map of Artemis.
What was the hardest part about writing a follow-up to The Martian?
It’s pretty scary. It’s going to be a hard act to follow. I think I’ve done a good job, but in the end all I can do is my best, and hope people like it.
In Artemis, the population lives in bubbles named after astronauts— Aldrin, Conrad, and so on. What research did you do when thinking about the habitats and architecture we need, to actually colonise the moon?
I wanted to make sure the structures could be made from locally available materials. That means aluminum, pretty much — it’s incredibly plentiful on the moon. And also, I wanted to ensure that a breach was incredibly unlikely.
After all, an entire city’s population will die if there’s a leak. Because of this, Artemis has a double-hull system with a meter of crushed lunar rock between the hulls. Also, I did extensive research on the processes needed to smelt anorthite — a mineral found all over the lunar surface — into aluminum and oxygen.
For those on Earth lucky enough to be able to afford a trip to the moon, how long would it take them to get there? Did you calculate the actual science and logistics of moon tourism when writing the novel?
Travel to the moon is done with lunar cyclers. Those are space stations in an orbit that takes them periodically close to the moon and to the Earth. It takes seven days for the cycler to reach the moon from Earth, and seven days to get back to Earth from the moon. There is a catch, though.
The path the cycler takes requires it to spend a lot of time in other, less useful locations between those efficient-path portions of its cycle. So there are many cyclers in operation at the same time, in different phases; there’s always one coming or going every few days.
Artemis is set sometime in the late 21st century. Is lunar colonisation something we could see within the next fifty or a hundred years?
I think so, yes. Artemis is based on the presumption that commercial space travel, and competition within that industry, will drive the cost of putting mass into low Earth orbit down low enough that middle-class people can afford a trip to space. Once that becomes a reality, lunar tourism becomes a viable business model. And that’s the economic foundation of Artemis.
Interplanetary travel and survival are core parts of both of your novels. Do you think humanity will become a multi-planet species? What’s the next step?
I think it’s inevitable. At some point in the distant past, humanity was a “one-continent” species. But our ancestors spread out from Africa to become a multi-continental species. Humans tend to go wherever we possibly can. Once we have the ability to form colonies off-Earth, we will certainly do so.
If you could live on the moon in a city like Artemis,would you? What would your favourite thing be? And what would you find most difficult?
I don’t think I’d actually like to live in Artemis. It’s a frontier town dealing with frontier problems, and it’s a little bit rough and tumble for me. I’m kinda spoiled. I like having a nice,cushy, easy life. So, no, I don’t think I’d live there.
If I did live there, I think the coolest part about it would be that it’s a frontier town, that you kind of get to make your own rules. There’s not too many people looking over your shoulder telling you what to do. The downside would be, of course, the constant risk of death! They’ve never had any sort of hull breach or anything like that, but it’s still dangerous and you’re far away from anything other than basic medical care.
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