Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Artemis
by Andy Weir
Crown, 2017

Artemis is the only city on the Moon. Established by the Kenya Space Corporation, it’s a series of habitable domes, filled with a mix of rich tourists and working class residents from myriad ethnic groups. It’s like the Wild West with few established laws, dominated by trade guilds.

A small bubble of life in the middle of a deadly and dangerous environment.

Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the daughter of a Saudi Arabian welder with whom she’s had a falling out. An underachieving genius with a string of broken romantic relationships, she works as a low wage porter and she earns extra money on the side as a smuggler. She’s egotistical and bitter, smart and funny, strong and broken in equal measure.

One day, Jazz gets a job offer that may be too illegal even for her but which promises to pay enough to be worth it. Despite her reservations, she accepts. Next thing she knows, she’s wrapped up in a couple of murders and a Brazilian mafia family has sent an assassin to the Moon to hunt her down. To save her own life, she could end up risking the lives of everyone in Artemis.

And then there’s a new technology that holds untold riches for whoever controls it…

Artemis is exciting and entertaining: a fast-paced, smart, and funny thrill ride, boasting a wonderful cast of characters, led by a striking young woman. It’s an immensely rewarding book.

Andy Weir established himself as a master of scientific realism with The Martian. That mastery is equally evident in Artemis. He worked very hard to ensure that everything about the setting is informed by solid science. This is as realistic a vision for living on the Moon as it’s possible to conceive.

Artemis establishes a larger milieu than The Martian did, with a significantly more diverse culture and more complex international politics. The scope of the world is broader. The crisis is much bigger.

But it’s his attention to detail which awes me most, how thoroughly he considers the ramifications of science on day-to-day life: it’s one thing to note that the boiling point of water drops as atmospheric pressure drops, but how many people stop to think about how that would affect the taste of a cup of coffee?

Mr. Weir is simply the best in the business for this level of verisimilitude. What makes him a masterful storyteller is how well he uses these details in service of telling a compelling story. Everything works to expand the setting, to enrich a character, or to further the plot. None of it is extraneous, none of it is detail merely for the sake of detail.

Artemis is a delight. One of my favorites of the year so far.

…..

But I can’t just end my review there, can I?

Because this is Andy Weir, the guy who wrote The Martian. People don’t just want to know, “Is this a good book?” What they really want to know is, “Is it as good as The Martian?”

My answer to that is that it’s an unfair comparison.

Artemis is NOT a Martian redux. Mr. Weir clearly had no interest in doing the same thing again. He set out to write a very different kind of story this time around and he succeeded. To compare Artemis to The Martian disrespects his intent and his accomplishment.

Artemis is a more conventional type of story, told using a more convential structure. It doesn’t boast the same novelty as The Martian. In some ways, that’s the most impressive thing about Artemis: Mr. Weir couldn’t fall back on novelty to mask any flaws in his storytelling.

So, rephrase the question: “If I loved The Martian, will I love Artemis?”

The answer depends on why you loved The Martian.

If you loved The Martian because it was a story about scientists and engineers, where the practice of science was completely foregrounded, you might be disappointed in Artemis. While there’s just as much science informing the setting, and while science is central to the crisis and resolution of the plot, this isn’t a story about scientists or the practice of science.

Artemis isn’t as overtly geeky as The Martian.

If you loved The Martian because of Mr. Weir’s imagination and attention to detail, there’s a great deal to feast on in Artemis. While it lacks the sheer novelty of The Martian, Artemis is grander in scope.

If you love Mr. Weir’s sense of humor, I figure it’s 50 / 50 as to whether you’ll like Artemis. His sense of humor is completely still here—sarcastic, snarky, incisive, slightly obnoxious, and whip smart—but there’s an anger to Jazz that Watney never had. This angry edge gives the humor a notably different flavor and it might not be to everyone’s taste.

I’m comfortable saying this: Imagine that Mr. Weir hadn’t written The Martian and Artemis was his debut novel. It would easily establish him as one of the best new voices in science fiction. It’s a fantastic novel by any estimation.

But I don’t believe it would catapult him to the level of superstardom the way The Martian did.

I’m grateful that Artemis is so different from The Martian. The characters, the plot, the narrative structure, the tone—Mr. Weir changed it all up and proves he can handle this kind of story just as well. I admire that he wants to tell different kinds of stories. I’m relieved to discover he’s not just a one-trick pony.

Artemis lacks the splashy novelty of The Martian. But this is exactly the kind of novel that demonstrates Mr. Weir’s staying power as a storyteller. This novel clearly demonstrates that he’s in it for the long haul.

The Martian rightfully made him famous. Artemis establishes his career. For that, I’m exceedingly grateful.

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