Ever since he began publishing sci-fi stories to his website, The Martian author Andy Weir has been using unorthodox approaches to deliver his stories to audiences. His latest collection is not found online or on a bookshelf, but in a new app named Tapas, and we've got an exclusive excerpt from one of its stories. The collection, titled Principles of Uncertainty, will be available on Tapas exclusively next week. The app offers a library of comics, novels and short stories through a "free to read" mechanic that let readers see previews of stories and then unlock more chapters by earning in-app currencies. It's a weird blend of free-to-play video game concepts with a reading app, but makes an intriguing home for Weir's latest batch of sci-fi stories.
We spoke to Weir about the collection, why he chose to release it on an app in the first place and his thoughts on finding new ways to keep telling stories to an audience in the digital age. Check it out below, as well as an excerpt from one of the tales in the collection, "Yuri Gagarin Saves the Galaxy", making its debut here.
Why choose a service like Tapas to launch Principles of Uncertainty?
Andy Weir: Because they made a good offer! But seriously, I'm always excited to explore new ways to connect with readers and I think what Tapas is doing in focusing primarily on mobile phones and small chunks of text is interesting. And if it gets more readers to connect with my stories, that's all I can ask for.
You've had a lot of experience with alternative means of publishing your stories beyond the traditional publishing route.
Weir: I think going forward there will be lots of different ways to reach readers. One area where something like Tapas could do really well is serials. It could take us back to the days of the Strand Magazine (which published the original Sherlock Holmes stories as serials). It would be neat to see that storytelling form resurrected.
What can you tell us about the rest of stories in Principles of Uncertainty?
Weir: They're all short stories I came up with at random times. I don't sit down with the intention to write a short story. I just randomly come up with the ideas at unpredictable intervals.
Is there a thematic thread that ties all nine stories together, or are they all just standalone short stories?
Weir: Nope! Each one is a standalone tale.
What inspired "Yuri Gagarin Saves the Galaxy"?
Weir: I was wondering what it would be like if aliens were just watching Earth, waiting for a chance to talk to us. I thought, "What would make them say hello?" And I figured it would be when we first sent someone into space. I kind of worked from there.
Vostok-1 soared into the sky, leaving Baikonur Cosmodrome far behind. Inside the spacecraft, Yuri Gagarin gasped for breath as immense forces pressed him into his seat. 119 seconds into the flight, the detachable boosters expended the last of their fuel and fell away from the rocket. The core stage continued thrusting for a further three minutes. Then the second stage ignited, launching the craft ever higher. Finally, after the most harrowing ten minutes in Yuri's life, the engines fell silent. He had become the first human being to journey into space.
"The flight is continuing well," he reported back to Baikonur. "I can see the Earth. The visibility is good."
"Welcome, Ambassador!" said a cheerful voice.
Yuri shuddered in surprise. Normally, transmissions were riddled with static and barely audible. But this voice had been clear as day.
"Ambassador, can you understand me?" The voice asked. It spoke with a Smolensk accent, reminding Yuri of his youth in Klushino.
"Who- who's talking?" Yuri asked, glancing around the cabin.
"We are the Zorplaxian collective! We are a highly advanced civilisation and we have been watching your planet for some time now. Congratulations on your first manned spaceflight!"
"Baikonur," Yuri said. "Be advised, I am experiencing auditory hallucinations."
"Oh no, that won't do," said the voice. "We're blocking your transmissions. We don't want to muddy the waters with other humans. You are the one who came to space, so you are the one who speaks for your species. You are the Ambassador."
"And let me say, you're much better than that dog you sent up four years ago. We spent hours trying to communicate with it."
Principles of Uncertainty will be available on August 29. You can learn more about the app, available on both iOS and Android, here.