Why Is it So Hard for Andy Weir to Follow Up on His First Success?

The author of ‘The Martian,’ the debut novel that became a blockbuster smash, on the challenges of having a second act

You could say that Andy Weir is most comfortable in all things astronomical — whether that’s his rise to success, or the subject matter of his fiction. His first novel, The Martian, began as a series of chapters self-published on a blog and became the Oscar-nominated Hollywood blockbuster directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. For his second novel, Artemis, Weir returned to space, this time to our moon and its first habitable city. The novel, named after the city, follows Jasmine “Jazz” Bashira, a young Muslim woman who works as a delivery girl, but also moonlights as a smuggler.

The novel pits poverty against wealth; two social classes collide when Jazz accepts a mission from a man named Trond Landvik. What follows is a fast-paced, well-plotted thriller across the whole city. If there is one thing Weir has perfected in his two novels, it’s exciting the reader page after page.

I spoke with the author as 2017 was winding down and he was reflecting on his two novels. We talked about the unique challenges of following up a major success — particularly when it’s your first book — and staying true to writing his first love: outer space.

Adam Vitcavage: With the soaring success of The Martian, was Artemis easier to write knowing you can write something critics and fans would love? Or harder because of the pressure of publishing a bestseller turned Hollywood blockbuster?

Andy Weir: Of course it’s stressful to follow up a success like The Martian, especially considering it was my first book. A success like The Martian comes once in a career for a writer, and I happened to get mine right out of the gate. It’s extremely unlikely that Artemis will be as popular. But if people read it and say “I liked The Martian better, but this was still pretty good,” then I’ll call that a win.

AV: You now have two best-selling books set on Mars and the Moon. When did your fascination with space begin?

AW: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in space. Probably because my dad is also a space nerd. So I was indoctrinated from an early age.

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AV: Your novels are heavily intertwined with science. When an idea comes into your mind, how do you go about researching the correct sciences?

AW: Mostly I just Google things. The space industry is incredibly well documented and easy to research. People are very proud to be a part of it and they like to write articles about what they’ve done.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in space.

AV: With Mark Watney and now Jazz, you’ve created two outstanding characters. Were they who you created first or did they fall into the plots and stories you wanted to tell?

AW: Mark Watney was there from the beginning, yes. But Jazz was a more circuitous route. I didn’t set out to make a female Saudi lead. It just evolved that way. Originally, Jazz was a minor character in a completely different story idea. As I worked on the plot and characters for Artemis, Jazz just kept becoming more and more prominent. Once I decided she would be the lead, she was already cemented in my mind as a Saudi woman. My imagination would have rebelled at me if I tried to change her at that point.

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AV: Are there any particular novels that explore similar themes to Artemis that you can recommend?

AW: People often compare Artemis to Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” But, believe it or not, I don’t think they’re similar at all. They both involve a lunar colony, but that’s it. Artemis isn’t about revolution or political strife. It’s a story of early colonization and the ugly things that have to happen for a city to grow. So, although it may sound strange, one of my biggest inspirations was Chinatown.

AV: 2017 was a trying year for a lot of people. What literature got you through it and really connected with you?

AW: I didn’t get much time to read, unfortunately. I was very busy writing Artemis and also working on the pilot for Mission Control (a TV series that CBS ultimately decided against running).

Artemis isn’t about revolution or political strife. It’s a story of early colonization and the ugly things that have to happen for a city to grow.

AV: Any books you missed that you’re dying to read?

AW: Yes I have to read Dune. I still haven’t done it. What kind of sci-fi-fraud am I?

AV: Now that you’ve dipped your toe into Hollywood, can we expect any film or projects in the future?

AW: For the moment I’m concentrating on novels. I did a spate in TV and that was pretty cool. But my bread and butter comes from narrative fiction.

AV: Do you have any writing resolutions for 2018? Any things you want to try or focus on?

AW: I’m going to stick to my strengths — realistic science fiction.

AV: Finally, do you have your next idea? Can we expect a space trilogy?

AW: I’d like to write a sequel to Artemis. Different main character, but the same setting.

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