Andy Weir, author of the wildly successful The Martian, delivered another great space adventure with his recent moon based thriller Artemis.When I read a book to review, I am not looking for great writing mechanics or the next Shakespeare. I’m looking for an engaging story with fun characters and a book that makes me want to keep turning the pages, even after I know I should turn out the lights. In short, I’m looking for a book that I enjoy reading. Andy Weir’s second book, Artemis, certainly fit that bill. Was it a perfect literary masterpiece? Nope. Was it great fun? Yep.
Weir is clearly a science nerd. Inevitable, I suppose, when one of your parents is a particle physicist. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is that, overall, the science is accessible, even to a guy like me, who is a science novice at best. I’ve dropped many a book over the years when the science or technology was over the top and barely understandable. I gave up on Tom Clancy years ago for that very reason. I spent more time deciphering than enjoying. Such is not the case with Artemis.
Artemis tells the story of the first city on the moon, and it is a juxtaposition of the two things I might expect to be totally separate stories. First, it has the feel of a moon base. Everyone is, of course, stuck inside the city, which is made of domes named after the famous astronauts, Shepard, Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad and Bean. In many cases, it felt just like a moon base would feel; cold and metal and grey and utilitarian.
On the other hand, capitalism has done its part and there are extravagant areas for the wealthy permanent residents and the slew of wealthy tourists (who else could afford a trip to the moon?). In any place where there are wealthy residents and tourists, there needs to be a servant class, and the “neighborhoods” where they live are exactly what you would expect: cramped and lacking any luxury at all. It seems in the future, life is just like it is now, with the luxuries, like actual food and alcohol, going to the rich and the rest living in the tiniest of quarters and eating “gunk,” an inexpensive foodish item made of dried algae with flavors added.
My favorite part of the setting is that the builders of Artemis have created an Apollo 11 Visitors Center, where tourists can look out at the landing site and all of the equipment that is left behind. They can even pay a bunch of slugs (the local currency) to hop in a hamster ball and walk around outside on the lunar surface, so that they can see the site up close and personal. It is, of course protected so that people cannot get too close.
Weir did a GREAT job of world building on the moon, but one of my criticisms is that we got very little feel for the history of Artemis or even what was going on on Earth below. This story was pretty self-contained. I did like that the book was only 305 pages long. Adding all of those things may have pushed the page count and made it less enjoyable.
The story is told through the eyes of Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a 26 year old Saudi woman who has lived in Artemis since she was 6 years old. Jazz is up there among the most enjoyable characters I’ve read in a long time. She is both smart and smart ass, with a snippy sarcastic answer for almost every statement. She is tough, having created a nice little living for herself as a porter, moving things both legal and illegal from the Port of Entry to her various customers around the city of 2000 people. When I say nice little living, the emphasis is on “little” as she lives in a “coffin,” which is only slightly bigger than the bed she sleeps on.
There is a nice cast of characters built around her. There’s the eccentric billionaire Trond Landvik, who has made the moon his home for the noblest of reasons. Landvik, also cannot control his need to make money, and drags Jazz into the illegal action that drives the plot. Rudy DuBois, who quit the Canadian Royal Mounted Police to become the Chief of Security in Artemis, still wears his old Mounty uniform every day. There’s tech genius Martin Svoboda, who is great with the circuits, but not so much with the girls. “You’re my only friend with boobs,” Svoboda tells Jazz at one point. They are a colorful set of characters, maybe a bit stereotypical in some respects, but they are all fun throughout.
While Jazz is making her way in Artemis, she has dreams of bigger things than smuggling cigars and booze to rich guys. She wants more than a communal bathroom and bed in a small metal box. She is easy pickings for Landvik when he lays out his plan for a hostile takeover of one of the moon’s biggest businesses. Smuggling is one thing, and she says no, and then he tells her the price he is willing to pay. The rest of the story becomes a fun heist story, where we witness Jazz planning the event and then watch it inevitably go wrong. The plot has some serious twists and turns that make it even more fun to read. There is one point in the climax where I absolutely said out loud “Nope”, because I am sure it would not work, and quite frankly, I said “nope” when a similar scene happened in “The Last Jedi”. I understand Weir’s decision to include it. I just didn’t buy it.
The story isn’t perfect. There are some points where a contrivance or two are necessary. There are points where people react in ways that people just wouldn’t react. At a crucial moment when air valves are being turned, I said to myself “One of those is going to be stuck”. Guess what? They were small prices to pay for the fun that the book delivered.
Weir also did some exposition between chapters in the form of emails to a “pen pal” named Kelvin on Earth. The correspondence started as a class project when the two were just nine years old, and then developed into a life long friendship and then partnership. Some reviewers were troubled by it. I actually kind of liked it.
This is clearly Weir’s strong suit, and as I said earlier, the way he writes it makes it accessible to even the non-scientific reader. Is it all true? Who knows? Was it believable? Well, I bought it. My favorite part about the science woven into the story was how well it mixed with the world building (or moon building) that Weir did. He explained, in terms I could understand, how life on the moon was possible. There are huge problems with trying to live up there, oxygen and water being the two biggest. He explained them. He developed industry up there. Think about the problems we have here with industry, like industrial waste, and the creation of heat in industrial processes. He explained them. The moon has 1/6th the gravity of Earth. He explained it. These moments are when Weir is demonstrably at his best. He clearly loves this stuff, and he wants the reader to love it as well. (Spoiler alert: I did)
I was always a fan of the show MacGyver. The original, not the crappy reboot. This book is that. Throughout the story Jazz is peppered with things that don’t go as planned, and she is forced to improvise, and when she does, Weir delivers well-written suspense and resolution.
If you are the person that looks for problems, maybe this book isn’t for you. For me, it was a fast-paced, action packed thriller. It came with a great lead character whose tough talk was filled with great humor, just like The Martian film was. Jazz “science(d) the shit out of it” many times throughout the book. There were some very predictable points, particularly in the end, but I enjoyed the ride very much. I actually think that Weir envisioned exactly what life on the moon would have to be. I hope that this story does find its way to film. I think it will make a great movie.
+ Jazz Bashara is a great character to tell this story. Funny, tough, and smart… well, most times.
+ The science was great, and accessible, even for dummies like me.
+ The world building on the moon was outstanding. From the science to the construction to the economy, all were very well thought out.
– Some very predictable moments, particularly in the end.
– Some “Nope…couldn’t happen” moments.
What do you think? Have you read Artemis? Leave me a comment below.
Recent book articles by Pete Herr
The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram .
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