Martian author Andy Weir is sure we’ll colonise the moon – but says living on Mars is a step too far
Author’s second novel Artemis takes place on the moon in the 2080s at humanity’s first and only lunar city. He thinks the same thing can happen in real life, only not on Mars – ‘it’s so much farther away’
By Dave Mosher
Andy Weir, author of The Martian, a realistic tale of survival in space that was made into a blockbuster 2015 film starring Matt Damon, is about to release his second and highly anticipated novel, Artemis.
Artemis takes place on the moon in the 2080s at humanity’s first and only lunar city of the same name. It’s a riveting story about a high-stakes lunar heist featuring Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a Saudi-born woman and witty smuggler who’s lived inside the aluminium bubbles of Artemis since she was a child.
In Weir’s typical style, the novel – which goes on sale on November 14 – is wildly entertaining and far-fetched, but stays surprisingly believable by leaning heavily on real-life science and engineering.
Weir talks about the book’s genesis, why he thinks humanity will colonise the moon first, his major criticism of Elon Musk's and SpaceX's plans to inhabit Mars, and why he'd never visit Artemis if he could.
Q. You could have picked any place in the universe for your next novel to take place. Why the moon, and why Artemis – a city on the moon?
A. I wanted to write a story about the first human settlement somewhere other than Earth. And I just really think that's going to be the moon. That'll definitely be the first place that we colonise outside of Earth. A lot of people would like us to just leapfrog to Mars, but Mars is so much farther away. It would be like if the ancient British colonise North America before they colonise Wales. The moon is definitely the first place that we will colonise.
And that’s your opinion, or what experts have told you?
Well, yeah, it is just my opinion. But it seems ... It’s one of those things that I feel pretty confident about that’s how it's gonna shake out.
What gave you the idea to write the new book?
I’m not sure exactly when I came up with the idea, but it started off with me saying, “OK, I want a story that takes place in the city on the moon.” And I kind of work forward from there. I had all of Artemis designed and even its history and its economic foundation and stuff before I ever made characters or story for it. So I really wanted to write a story about this – about life on the first colony off Earth. The Martian was a survival story and I didn’t want to just write another one; I wanted a unique story. I love crime novels and I love crime stories, I like heist and caper kind of stories and I thought, “Hey, why not do a caper on the moon?”
Like The Martian, Artemis is very realistic – the claustrophobic hallways in lower-income areas, the local construction materials, the chemistry ...
Every part of Artemis is about the economics of making it a profitable tourist engine. They had to build it there, and they had to build it with resources that they had on the moon. So I had to figure out, how do you make metal on the moon? And to make it cheaper? Also, I based Artemis’ internal economy – and kind of its social structure that emerges as a result – on resort towns, tourism towns. Imagine a resort town in the Caribbean, where there’s some high-end hotels, casinos, whatever, along the shoreline. And then behind that are the more, shall we say, “austere” living environments of the people who live and work there. And so I figured, well, Artemis would be that. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the moon: economics determines how these things pan out. Artemis’ economy is a tourist economy, so I figured it’d be just like any other tourist town.
You’ve visited SpaceX, a company founded by Elon Musk that’s intent on colonising Mars. What’s your impression of their goal?
Talking about getting humans to Mars, like getting a flags-and-footprints kind of mission? I think [that] is very realistic to happen this century. I think that could definitely happen. But colonising Mars is way, way far in the future, regardless of what everyone says. I just don’t see it happening soon. There’s a certain appeal to Mars because it’s interesting and exciting and people are like, “Oh, that’s neat!” But the reality is that there is no economic reason to colonise Mars. At all. There’s a saying in that kind of space industry: “There is no Planet B.” It’s like, you don't just get to say, “Oh, f*** this, we’ll go elsewhere.” And I guarantee you that regardless of how bad the problems are on Earth, environmentally or whatever else, it is easier to fix them than to colonise another planet.
If you take the trillion dollars that you were going to spend colonising Mars and put it into environmental amelioration, you might find that it's better done here.
Leaving Earth as an idea of saving it is just not viable. That’s not why people will leave. The environment of Earth is not a factor that would affect the colonisation of our solar system, in my opinion.
I’m sure you've heard Elon Musk’s Mars colonisation talks in 2016 and 2017. What’s your overall impression?
I think Musk’s plan is overly optimistic. I think that it's a sort of thing that could happen, but not on the timelines that he’s talking about. I think that neither Musk nor anybody else seems to be considering, what economic reason is there to go to this other planet? So far, I’ve never heard an answer to that. It’s like, “We can put people on Mars!” And I’m like, “Why? So they’ll be there? Well, we can put people on Antarctica, why not do that?” I'm not seeing a reason why, aside from people being overly idealistic and thinking, “Man, it’d be awesome to be on Mars.” I don’t see any reason why they would move there.
Would you go to Artemis if it existed today, and would you want to just be a tourist or actually live there?
A: I don’t think I’d like to live in Artemis. First off, I would not like the trip out there. Secondly, I have a lot of friends and family on Earth that I would miss too much. It takes a certain special kind of lifestyle and personality to live in a frontier town, and I don’t have that. I like the comforts of civilisation.