Weir follows his bestselling debut, The Martian, with Artemis (Crown, Nov.), a near-future novel set on the moon’s first and only colony.
Science fiction loves lunar colonies. We see them in everything from The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to Star Trek. But what always bothers me is one simple question: Why would you put permanent human residents on the moon? What possible benefit could there be to living on a miserable rock that’s as dead as it is deadly? Frankly, most stories give weak explanations.
Are we mining the moon? If so, why not use robots? They’re easier to keep functioning on the moon and no one gets mad when they die.
Are we there for science—to study the moon itself? Again: Why not robots? With the moon just two light-seconds away, we could have rovers on the surface that Earthbound humans control nearly in real time.
Did population pressure make us colonize the moon? Why not colonize Antarctica first? Or the ocean floor? Both are way the hell easier to live on than the freakin’ moon. Hell, why not just build taller buildings?
There’s always politics, though, right? A small group of oppressed folks might move to the moon to evade persecution. But if you can go to the moon, your persecutors can get there, too. And again—why not set up on an artificial island in the ocean or something if all you want is to leave a country’s territory?
I wrestled with this for a long time when I designed Artemis. I wanted a moon city but I also wanted realism. So why does Artemis exist? Why are there humans there instead of a bunch of automated equipment? What’s the economy based on?
My answer: tourism. People are remarkably willing to go to inhospitable places for tourism, if there’s enough allure to the destination. They climb Everest, wander the Sahara, and hang out on remote islands in the Pacific. And wherever those tourists go, local economies develop and permanent residents move in. The only reason we don’t have lunar tourism right now is the cost. And that impediment will remove itself given enough time.
The commercial space industry is driving the price of low-altitude space travel lower and lower with each passing year. Eventually, we’ll reach a tipping point when middle-class people can afford to go into space; at that moment, the industry will explode with investment and research. We’ll see spacecraft technology advances every bit as rapid and monumental as the airline technology advances in the 20th century—which, let’s remember, took us from the Wright brothers to transatlantic passenger jets in 60 years.
And once you get to orbit, it’s not that much harder to get to the moon. Who wouldn’t want to play around in one-sixth gravity? Maybe get a look at the Apollo 11 landing site? People will start visiting the moon as soon as they possibly can. And when they do, other people will already be there with “I♥THE MOON” T-shirts for sale.