Life in Artemis, the only human city on the moon, is rough for Jasmine Bashara, a 26 year old delivery person, smuggler, and would-be tourist guide. She fails her EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild exam in, literally, breathtaking fashion; she’s somewhat estranged from her welder father, to whom she owes a huge personal debt; she’s living alone in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing capsule room; she barely gets by on her payments as a porter (supplemented by some judicious smuggling activity). But Jazz wouldn’t want to live any other place ― certainly not on Earth ― and she’s determined to make a success of her life, with no help from anyone.
So when Trond Landvik, one of the wealthiest people on the moon and a regular customer for Jazz’s smuggled luxuries, offers her a million “slugs” (moon currency) to do a highly illegal sabotage job, Jazz can’t resist. Trond’s intention is to disrupt Sanchez Aluminum’s production of oxygen for long enough that he can take over the business, for reasons he’s cagey about. The job requires Jazz to sneak out of the domed city of Artemis (tough when all comings and goings out of the city’s four airlocks are constantly monitored) and take out four massive anorthite harvester machines. Jazz is both brilliant and determined, and comes up with a complicated scheme worthy of Mark Watney. But the plan doesn’t work out quite the way she intended, organized crime elements get involved, and suddenly it’s a life-and-death situation for Jazz.
Artemis (2017), Andy Weir’s just-published second novel, didn’t engage me nearly to the extent The Martian did, but it’s action-packed and ― once the crimes finally get rolling ― compulsively readable. There’s a complex crime caper on the moon and lots of geeky hard science details. The domed moon city setting is laid out with a great deal attention to detail; Weir’s world (or moon)-building is fairly elaborate, if not fleshed out quite as completely as I would have liked. I suppose something had to give to work in all the science facts and the too often cringe-worthy jokes.
The cast of characters in Artemis is highly diverse, beginning with Jazz herself, a rebellious Arab young woman protagonist. She’s Muslim in heritage, though non-religious and sexually active. Artemis’ government is controlled by Kenya, with a female administrator, and its population is a cross-section of several Earth nationalities. One of Jazz’s friends is gay, though their relationship’s been on the rocks since he “stole” Jazz’s former boyfriend away from her ― ouch. Jazz also has had a Kenyan pen pal since she was nine years old; their mildly interesting letters provide interludes at the end of each chapter, giving us some background information regarding Jazz’s past, and gradually tying back into Jazz’s present circumstances.
Unfortunately, characterization isn’t otherwise a strong point in Artemis. Jazz’s juvenile, snarky personality frequently irritated me. She’s a genius ― when motivated, she picks up electronics design and the chemistry underlying high-temperature smelting with a few quick hours of study ― but she often acts in childish, petulant ways because of her pride and rebelliousness. Her character and fondness for crude jokes makes Jazz read more like a teenage boy than a woman in her mid-twenties. Her mantra in life seems to be “nobody can tell me what to do.” Jazz gradually gains a sliver of wisdom and redemption, but it’s limited. The secondary characters are (mostly) appealing personalities, but easily recognizable and one-dimensional types.
Artemis’s crime caper plot is also a more standard and familiar one; the novel as a whole just isn’t as fresh or compelling as The Martian. While the hard science details aren’t given short shrift, they flow less smoothly in Artemis than in The Martian, bogging down the pace somewhat. However, Weir is clearly making an effort to expand his horizons: along with the greater diversity, the reader is also treated to lessons in wealth inequality, economics, and sciences like welding and smelting. Duct tape even makes a brief but memorable appearance in the plot, in a mic drop scene sure to be appreciated by fans of The Martian.
In the end, Artemis was a reasonably engaging story, but Weir’s shortcomings as an author are more apparent here, with the less gripping plot, than they were in The Martian. Whether you’ll enjoy Artemis depends, I think, upon your affinity (or tolerance) for complex crime caper plots, immature protagonists, and an abundance of technical science.
It’s rare that a film adaptation is as good as the book and even more so for the movie to be better, but that, I thought, was the case for The Martian, and I’m guessing will be true as well for Andy Weir’s sophomore effort Artemis; the film version, I’m assuming, is just about ready to start shooting based on the huge success of its predecessor.
The title shares its name with the moon’s sole city, home to 26-year-old Jasmine Bashara, whose job as delivery person is a big plus for her real money-making job: smuggling. When one of her regular clients proposes a much more lucrative (and risky) job, one that is a big jump up in criminality, she takes him up on the offer. As one might expect, things don’t go as planned and soon she is running and hiding for her life, pulling friends and not-friends into the ever-escalating danger, and eventually risking the lives of everyone inside Artemis.
Though on the surface Artemis appears wholly different from The Martian — Muslim female vs. white male protagonist, working together vs. working (mostly) in isolation, big crime organization vs. big govt. organization — the two share a lot of the same DNA, for both good and ill. There’s a lot of sharp banter and internal quipping; a good amount of science, math, and engineering; both characters fix, jury-rig, or take apart a lot of machinery, often on the fly; there’s an urgent deadline or bad things will happen, and so forth. All of these are executed to varying degrees of success. If you loved The Martian, my guess is you’ll like Artemis, probably quite a bit. If, like me, you found Weir’s first book enjoyable but held back to just above middling thanks to its flaws, you’ll probably have the same criticisms here.
Jasmine is an engaging if not always likable character (just the opposite on many occasions actually), and her voice is mostly fun to follow along with. But her character is marred by not really feeling like a 26-year-old Muslim (non-practicing) woman but more like a 19-year-old male version of one (maybe cutting down on her blowjob jokes would have helped ameliorate this). And she’s a bit too brilliant and handy, making it hard to feel any true concern when she ends up in a sticky situation.
Which she does. A lot. One of my criticisms of The Martian was the repetitive nature of the plot: crisis — “oh shit” explanation of just how bad it is — Math + Science + Tools + Handiwork — crisis solved —new crisis — repeat. The same pattern holds true here, and while individually the scenes are well done, the cumulative impact is that they start to pale and rob the later scenes of true suspense.
On the other hand, despite issues with Jasmine’s character and super-skill, I have to give props to Weir for stretching himself authorially, not just with gender and ethnicity, but also in the way he presents more of a dark/depressed side to Jasmine than we ever saw with Watney. Again, the execution is mixed, but her hardscrabble life, her estrangement from her father, her troubled love life and current isolation make her a richer character in lots of ways, and I would imagine this bodes well for his next work.
Beyond Jasmine, the other characters lack any real definition, serving more as necessary props to the action, sometimes in predictable fashion. The science is often interesting in itself (such as why coffee on the moon would be so bad), but often feels a bit clumsily inserted, and bogs the story down in too many spots. Similarly, Weir relies a bit too many times (or for too long at a time) on wholly expository scenes that also slow the pace. Finally, there were more than a few times where acts seemed just too implausible, beginning with Jasmine’s easy acceptance of the client’s proposal. As one more specific example, a hotel security guard explains that he didn’t chase someone because, “He had a knife. Best to let him go.” This in a half-kilometer wide bubble in a city where two people were just brutally stabbed to death.
I breezed through Artemis in a single sitting, so despite the pacing issues it’s a fast read, and it’s certainly something I’d recommend to fans of The Martian. For others, I’d say consider waiting for the movie, coming soon to a theater near you (if it isn’t there already).