Andy Weir, Author of 'The Martian,' on His New Book 'Artemis,' and Who He Wants Cast in the Movie

Andy Weir's second book, after his staggeringly successful debut with the "The Martian," is "Artemis," out November 14. Aubrie Pick/Crown

Andy Weir was working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley when his very first book, The Martian, became a stunning success (more than 3 million copies sold and counting). What had begun as serialized chapters posted on his blog became a book deal, then movie rights, at such a dizzying pace he thought it was an elaborate scam. Those rights morphed into the Oscar-nominated film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, which raked in more than $630 million worldwide.

Weir—a self-professed science and science fiction dork susceptible to 1980s nostalgia—has abandoned his former cubicle at a technology company and turned his attention to writing full time. In Artemis, his sophomore effort, published November 14, he imagines a new kind of frontier town in humanity's first settlement away from Earth.

Weir spoke to Newsweek about writing ("I still have a lot to learn"), why he "avoids politics like the plague" and how he became such a Tina Fey fan. He even shared a "weird wild fantasy" or two about casting for the film adaptation of Artemis, to which Fox and New Regency have already acquired the rights.

Have you always loved science?
I've been a dork from day one. And that's probably because my dad is a particle physicist and my mom was an electrical engineer. So I was doomed on that front. But as for my interest in space, that probably came from science fiction. My dad had—has still, I think—a bookshelf six feet high, three feet wide and a foot deep, that was jam-packed with paperback sci-fi from the 50s, 60s and 70s. It's weird, I'm 45 years old but I grew up reading baby boomer sci-fi.

Who were your favorite sci-fi writers?
My holy trinity is Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. I really like hard sci-fi—when it's realistic or as realistic as can be.

How did you transition from software engineer to writer?
I've been coming up with stories my whole life. I really wanted to be a writer even when I was a teenager, but I also wanted to eat regular meals, right, and not live in box in an alley. So when the time came for me to choose a career, I went with software engineering. I liked computer programming a lot—I was a happy little cubicle dweller. A lot of people use the expression, "You're just a cog in the machine." I'm like, yeah, but if you take the cog out of the machine, the machine doesn't work anymore.

It's awesome because now I'm my own boss and I work from home. The downside is that I'm my own boss and I work from home. What I miss most is the office atmosphere, and seeing my workmates. I'm a social guy.

Where did the premise for Artemis come from?
I wanted to write a story about humanity's first city that wasn't on Earth. After considering Mars and low-Earth orbit it seemed clear to me that the moon is where it'll be. Low-Earth orbit is closer, but there's literally nothing up there; to build a city you'd have to bring up every gram of matter. On the moon, which is close enough, you have massive resources, you just need to process them.

The first thing I did was design the city. I put a bunch of work into how you would build it, how you would stage the construction, the safety precautions—like making sure people don't accidentally kill everyone with a misplaced rivet gun. Only then, once I was done and had the entire city mapped, did I think about characters and plot.

Matt Damon plays Mark Watney in the film adaptation of Andy Weir's "The Martian." The movie earned more than $630 million worldwide. Aiden Monaghan/Twentieth Century Fox

Your main character, Jazz, is a Saudi woman. What were the obstacles in writing from a female perspective?
The story went through several revisions. In the first, I needed a likeable, smartass smuggler type for just two or three scenes, and that's when I created Jazz, as a tertiary character. The second story idea had more of Jazz in it, but she was still a secondary character. The third is where I was, like, Jazz is really interesting, I'll make a story about her. So I'm like, okay, I've walked into a female lead and I don't want to fuck that up. That was my biggest fear. I ran the manuscript by as many women as I could—people in the family so to speak, at my publishing house, my mom, my girlfriend, anyone I could trust not to leak it.

Complicating things is that Jazz is not a typical person; she's got attitudes and traits that few women or men have. I wanted to make a deeper, more interesting character than Mark Watney [of The Martian]. All you know about Mark is that he doesn't want to die, and that's not a lot of depth. Jazz is very intelligent, but also flawed and weird and immature for her age; she makes a lot of bad decisions. The risk becomes that people will think this is what Andy Weir thinks women are like, and I'm like, no, this is just what Jazz is like. The other women in the story are much more competent.

How are women readers responding to Jazz?
There's always going to be a demographic that will automatically hate the book because it's a man writing about a woman. I kind of ignore them because there's nothing I could have done right. More reasonable reviews say, okay, she's a 26-year-old woman but she talks like a 15-year-old boy. That explicit phrase is repeated so often [on sites like Goodreads] that I think reviewers are reading each other's reviews and going into it with that idea, which is too bad. I was surprised that [criticism] was falling along gender lines. Female readers are not liking Jazz very much and male readers are cool with her. I'm trying to figure out what causes that.

Would you change anything about her?
Mostly what I'm getting is that a lot of the female readers found Jazz grating and they didn't like her as a person. I probably made her too abrasive. Jazz is an unlikable person; I can see that. The audience has to root for your main character. I'm glad I did what I did because I'm trying to grow, I'm trying to get better as a writer. I don't want to just write survival stories forever, and I want to learn how to make deeper and more compelling characters.

The place you've created is intensely multicultural, composed of people from all over the world, of various religions and sexual identities. How did you come up with that society?
I based the demographics on America in the first half of 19th century—1800 to 1850—when the country was full of opportunity, you just needed to get here. If you can get here, you can be here—welcome! And that's how we ended up the country that we are. People go to Artemis for the same reason—not for ideology, not for isolationism, but for the opportunity to make money. I can go live there and enjoy limited rules and regulations and also maybe make a killing. So it's a gold rush kind of mentality.

The distant blue Earth is seen above the Moon's limb, in this handout picture taken by the Apollo 8 crew forty-five years ago, on December 24, 1968, courtesy of NASA. NASA/Reuters

Part of what you describe in the book are the efforts to grow the economy, which is sharply divided.
Artemis is also a resort town, so its economics are based on tourists. They tend to have really opulent stuff for the tourists and then the people that live and work there don't have it so nice. They're not destitute eating rats out of the gutters but it's hard work for them.

Artemis seems to be more utopian than dystopian.
I'm a fairly optimistic guy and I tend to have a Pollyanna attitude about humanity. The book, which takes place in the 2080s, is at the end of this century, heading into the next one. I just feel we'll have dealt with things like [racism and intolerance] by then. I also have a belief, just a theory, that all conflict is ultimately economic. Everything else is excuses—not deliberate excuses, but excuses or rationalizations. In most cases when you have racism or intolerance, when you drill a little deeper, you'll find out that it has an economic foundation. Like this group and that are competing for the same resources.

But I bet you 2117 will be as much better than 2017 as 2017 is better than 1917. There are bumps in the road—for instance I think 1943 was much worse than 1923—but the trajectory of humanity is always up. If you would rather be alive in 1817, enjoy your small pox and lynchings!

As a reader, it can seem as if your books are directly, or indirectly, commenting on issues of the present and the past.
I don't do that at all. I have no social commentary whatsoever. I deliberately make sure my political ideas don't slip in. I have political beliefs and ideals and I feel strongly about them, but I don't ever talk about them in public or put them into my stories. When I'm reading a book I just want to be entertained, I don't want to be preached at, I don't want a message, I just want a story. If an author has a strong political message, it ruins the book for me because I know that his universe will conspire to ensure the author's political views are validated. So, okay, there's a plucky upstart fighting against an evil corporation. I pretty much know everything that's going to happen in this story. It's now boring to me. What would be cool is if it's a plucky upstart versus an evil corporation and, further in, you find the corporation is not evil—they have a secret plan to save the world, and the plucky upstart is a pain in their ass.

Someone who is a good counter-example for that is Tina Fey. She is fairly liberal; she's got her political views, she states them. But then oftentimes the things she writes go completely against her views, because she prioritizes entertainment over political ideology. So anything she's involved in writing I'm interested in watching since I have no idea how it's going to end. That's what I like when I'm reading—being outsmarted by the writer.

Weir is a Tina Fey fan who binges whole seasons of Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" in one day. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

What are your current entertainment obsessions?
I like Fey's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; I tend to watch that on the day the season comes out. It's ten half-hour episodes—that's just five hours! I can do that without a pee break. [It's actually 13, hang on just a little longer, Andy!] Right now, my girlfriend and I are on a multi-day binge of Stranger Things 2—obviously, so is everyone else. I'm a Star Trek fan boy, so I'm watching Star Trek: Discovery, which I quite like. I thought it was going to suck based on reports that were leaking out during during the production. I watch The Orville, which I like except when it gets too political. And I really love The Good Place, with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.

I don't read as much as I should, especially considering my whole job now is to write. I should maybe be reading authors that I like so that I can look at what they do and get better. But what I can recommend is Terry Pratchett's This World series to anyone. I don't generally like the fantasy genre, but these are comedy fantasy, and hilarious. I think Pratchett was one of the greatest authors of the century. Also Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It's one of my favorite books of the past decade, full of 80s nostalgia, and that's my decade. There's a movie version coming out next year, directed by Steven Spielberg. Good job Ernie!

I'm a famous writer now and that means I get to cold contact other famous writers and say, "Hey let's have a beer." It works! I sought out Ernie. I hung out with George RR Martin, too. Actually, George contacted me.

The author has a "weird, wild" casting fantasy for "Artemis" the movie: Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a The Rock. Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images

Any thoughts on who should be cast in the movie version of Artemis?
Everybody asks me that and I never really know how to answer. When I'm writing I don't really see the characters; they're just blobs. It's all very conceptual in my mind. When I finished The Martian, I couldn't have told you what color Mark Watney's hair was. Jazz is described as Saudi, but her culture was defined by Artemis, because she grew up in Artemis. But she wouldn't have to be Saudi. She could be someone Middle Eastern or South American or Native American or Indian.

I do have one wild fantasy. It would be really cool if Rudy, the Mountie cop, was played by the Rock. In the book I explicitly say he's a tall blond white guy, but attitude-wise, he's got the personality of characters played by the Rock. And Queen Latifah would make a good Fidelis Ngugi, the administrator, the woman who's in charge. But they would have to make her look 40 years older than she actually is.