The Martian author Andy Weir on his new lunar crime novel, Artemis

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Nov 14, 2017

Few authors in the world can relate to the rare publishing sensation of Andy Weir's The Martian. The web-serialized sci-fi tale of NASA's red planet mission gone awry was picked up by Crown Publishing Group in 2014 and transformed into a global phenomenon, eventually selling over 4.5 million copies in North America and becoming the most successful title in the venerable firm's 84-year history.

Adapted into an Academy Award-nominated sci-fi feature by screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Ridley Scott, The Martian starred Matt Damon as marooned astronaut Mark Watney and chronicled his incredible survival story in riveting detail down to the last potato plant and ascent vehicle rivet.

Now, three years after the arrival of his debut novel, Weir returns to the genre he loves in a brand new lunar crime caper set at Artemis, the bubbled human colony on the surface of the moon. Named after the Greek moon goddess, Artemis centers around the crafty female smuggler and cat burglar named Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara as she attempts to better her life in the pressurized domes and complex society of Earth's first and only settlement on our beautiful but desolate satellite.

Here's the official synopsis:

Life on Artemis is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire, and Jazz is decidedly not a member of either category. She’s got debts to pay, her job as a porter barely covers the rent, and her budding career as a smuggler isn’t exactly setting her up as a kingpin, much to her disappointment. So when the chance at a life-changing score drops in her lap, Jazz can’t say no, even though she’s sure there’s more to the setup than meets the eye. And indeed, pulling off the perfect crime is just the first of Jazz’s problems as she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.

The near-future thrills of Artemis arrive in book stores and online retailers today, November 14. Already, 20th Century Fox and New Regency have scooped up the film adaptation rights with ex-Han Solo directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same pair behind The Lego Movie

SYFY WIRE spoke with Andy Weir about his immediately-absorbing new novel, with the amiable author expounding on avoiding the sophomore jinx, building the detailed world of Artemis, and what readers can expect from his resourceful heroine as she explores her fate inside the moon's merciless domed city of Artemis.

Join Weir on his Artemis book tour and see if he's landing in your town HERE.

Since there were no major expectations when The Martian was released, what are the pressures now as you await the launch of your second book, Artemis?

Andy Weir: Well I’ve found that the northwest corner of my office is best for cowering and whimpering but sometimes I go for the northeast corner as well. It really depends on my mood. (laughs). I get nervous and I hope people like it and every single review from both professional reviewers or just people on Amazon, everybody is going to compare it to The Martian, there’s just no avoiding that. The success of The Martian is the sort of thing a writer gets once in a career if they’re lucky. Even if I did a good job on it, I know that readers are going to be mentally comparing it to The Martian and that’s a tough act to follow.

How did you choose Artemis as your follow-up novel and what was the genesis of the idea?

I wanted to do a crime story and have it be science fiction and the best way to do that is in a city that’s somewhere else other than Earth. As so I decided I wanted to do a story about the first human settlement that is not on Earth and to my mind that’s got to be on the moon. There’s no way we’re going to leapfrog the moon and colonize Mars before the moon. That would be like the ancient Britains colonizing North America before they colonized Wales. It’s so much closer and more convenient. I put a lot of time and effort into designing the economics and the makeup and its history and how it gets built and then from there, only once I’d completely designed the city did I start coming up with characters and storylines to take place in it.

Was it easier of more difficult tackling a female lead character this time?

I didn’t sit down with the intention of creating a female woman of color or trying to be politically correct, and what happened was that I went through multiple revisions of plot ideas for Artemis and in the first story I had, Jazz was a tertiary character. I just needed a likable smuggler type for two or three scenes and so I thought what’s a country I haven’t use yet for someone to be from? And I decided on Saudi Arabia. I made her a woman just because. She was a very minor character and I ditched that story idea and moved on. In the second story she was more prominent but it still wasn’t working out.

I liked Jazz and I thought why not just try telling her story and that’s the Artemis plotline that stuck. By that time she was cemented in my mind and I had a lot of her backstory worked out so I could not have changed her to something I was more familiar with, my imagination would have rebelled against it. And it was a constant concern for me. I was always worried if I was portraying a reasonable woman or if she just comes off as a guy writing a woman. I’m getting mixed reviews on how well I did but any time you you’re a male author writing a female lead there’s a contingent of people who are going to hate you for doing that.

What was your world-building research process this time and how was it different compared to The Martian?

The process was the same as The Martian, just me sitting in front of my computer Googling stuff. But actually I did a lot more work on the world-building of Artemis. With Artemis I was creating an entire fictional city so I had to think about how to do you build a city on the moon is an economically reasonable way? So you’d need to refine metals from local materials. So what minerals are available on Artemis and what can you collect and what metals can you smelt out of them?

Just starting from there and working forward to figure out how to build a city and then what does that city end up looking like twenty years later. Artemis is a tourist town and its economics revolve around tourism and I wondered what it would look like and so I modeled it after island tourist towns in the Caribbean so it has really high-end hotels along the beach and then behind the hotels are the more austere places where the residences live. That is just how those economies always turn out.

As a detail-oriented writer, what were some of the more fascinating or strange details you discovered in your research?

I quickly decided in the beginning that Artemis’ atmospheric pressure would be .21 of Earth at sea level because that’s the partial pressure of oxygen on Earth. And that’s what the Apollo missions did as well, the insides of the space capsule and lunar lander because it puts less stress on the hull and there’s no reason to bring a bunch of nitrogen to Artemis just to simulate Earth’s atmosphere. So one interesting thing I ran into is that since the atmospheric pressure is so much lower, that means that water boils at a lower temperature. It boils at 61 degrees Celsius and that means that the coffee and tea doesn’t taste quite right. I get more feedback on that one thing!

What was the level of NASA cooperation in researching material for this book?

I didn’t ask, but they certainly told me during the days of The Martian to feel free to contact them, but what I found is that it’s just so much easier to go online and find the data. Everything in the space industry is so very open and well documented and published and very easy to get at, as opposed to the financial industry of the military. People are very proud of what they’ve accomplished in the space industry and it’s all open and in the public.

The movie rights are with Simon Kinberg Productions and 20th Century Fox so what are your thoughts about Phil Lord and Chris Miller attached to direct?

I’m excited. I hope they make the movie. You never really know. In order for a movie to get made, especially one that would require a budget like Artemis, everything has to go right and the stars have to align and that’s what happened on The Martian. Everything just lined up perfectly and throughout the whole process everyone kept telling me that it’s never this smooth so don’t get used to this ever happening again.

What do you have cooking creatively for 2018?

I am poking around at another book that takes place in Artemis, a different main character but the same setting. That’s what I’d love to do. I’d love for Artemis to be a single world where a whole bunch of my stuff takes place. I want my own personal Discworld like Terry Pratchett. So I am working on this next novel and have it plotted out mostly but I’m kinda holding off on getting too excited about it until I see what the response to Artemis is. Because I’m not going to put a bunch of effort into a sequel if people don’t like the original.

Lend an ear for this exclusive Soundcloud clip from the Artemis Audible book narrated by Rosario Dawson: