Acclaimed science fiction writer and UC San Diego former student Andy Weir returned to campus to talk about his newest book Artemis, answer sci-fi questions, and host a meet-and-greet with VIPs on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.
Hosted by the Arthur C Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Andy Weir began by speaking of his childhood love of sci-fi novels, with his father being a major influence and fellow “sci-fi nerd.” One of the authors Weir grew up reading was in fact Arthur Clarke. During the duration of the talk, Weir makes clear that he writes about hard science fiction, a subgenre that deals with scientific concepts in realistic settings. Weir’s works, The Martian and Artemis, are a testament to his writing focus, as the science explained in the books is highly plausible. This is in contrast to another popular science fiction work, Star Wars, which takes place in a futuristic setting but also includes aspects that do not comply with scientific laws.
During the talk, we learned that Weir previously worked as a computer programmer for 25 years before going into creative writing full-time. Weir has described himself as a “scientist who writes” and a science enthusiast. Describing his writing process, Weir stated, “It is easier to write what you’re passionate about,” and his passion surely lies in writing about space. In addition, he stated, “I try to write a book that I myself would like to read.” Although his stories take place in desolate frontiers, Weir prefers the optimism often found on civilization.
Despite his focus on hard science fiction, Weir also stated that he would engage with other areas of science fiction, like space opera. Weir described Artemis as a typical story about immigrants, deeply reflected in Jaz, the protagonist. In describing the world of Artemis (title and setting share the same name), a city set on the moon, Weir said, “Small communities don’t have the luxury of racism,” which is interesting given that Jaz is Middle Eastern woman in a small lunar community. In developing Jaz as a character, Weir wanted to write about her without antagonizing or cutting out female readers. To avoid this, he sought out women like his mother and girlfriend to gain insight.
On a more personal level, Weir later revealed that Jaz is a reflection of himself and admitted, “She was a screw-up just like I was when I was 26.” Weir also stated that Jaz is an anti-hero, one that doesn’t commit to her actions in the book intentionally and someone who is simply trying to survive. At the same time, though, Weir said, “If you make her too much of a screw-up, you’ll lose the reader.”
During the subsequent answering of audience questions, Weir demonstrated his knowledge about EVAs (extravehicular activities, like spacewalking), particularly about the effects of lunar dust amidst traveling on the surface of the Moon. He stated, “It is easier to colonize any part of Earth than [somewhere] in space,” due to the large financial and human costs it would take to establish a colony outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Weir also talked about his interactions with Buzz Aldrin, one of the members of the Apollo 11 mission, as well as his social commentary in Artemis regarding the wealthy. Weir does so through the careful, humorous choice of character names like Jay Worthalot and Richmaster III.
Near the end of the talk, the audience learned that UCSD has the highest number of acclaimed sci-fi writers. Andy Weir has now joined the ranks of this group, and his character reflects well on all of those who attend or have attended UCSD. His deep knowledge of several areas in science and literature, combined with his positive outlook on human existence, are testament to his success as an acclaimed author.
Bernard Kim is a writer for the Arts and Entertainment section for The Triton.