Artemis: A Novel
- By Andy Weir
- 320 pp.
- Reviewed by Lawrence De Maria
- March 2, 2018
This entertaining sophomore effort from the author of The Martian takes readers to the moon.
I think I can safely say there would never have been an Artemis without The Martian.
That is not to intimate that Artemis is a bad novel. On the contrary, it is a very entertaining, educational read. And I also don’t mean that Artemis wouldn’t have seen the light of day in some form, presumably self-published by its author, the brilliant Andy Weir.
A little backstory is in order.
Weir is the proverbial rocket scientist, a software engineer who is an expert on relativistic physics, a non-quantum description of a system of particles, or of a fluid, where the velocities can be compared to the speed of light. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.) He is also no slouch when it comes to orbital mechanics and spaceflight.
A couple of years ago, when he apparently had a few free quarks of time, he wrote The Martian, a novel about an astronaut, presumed dead, who is left behind by his colleagues when they flee disaster on Mars. The marooned fellow, Mark Watney, bleeding and understandably discouraged, has to survive 444 days on an inhospitable planet that kills you if you leave the door ajar.
Why 444 days? Well, that’s when money-strapped NASA, which apparently lacks the political clout of the NRA, will again land on the Red Planet and presumably give Mark a proper burial. With little food and all sorts of other “intractable” survival problems (like drinking and breathing), he is in deep doodoo. Back on Earth, they are already naming high schools after him — as memorials.
But, alas. Mark is a botanist and a tough cookie, so he survives by growing potatoes using, ahem, the doodoo produced and conveniently packaged for a year by his old team. And when he manages to contact a chagrined NASA, his home planet rallies around a rescue effort.
Now, Weir is not the most sophisticated writer, as made evident by his affinity for cliché. But he knows how to science the heck out of an impossible situation. In addition to potatoes, Mark figures out how to get water, energy, and oxygen that will last him until his rescue.
Great story! But do you think Mark had a hard time? Weir could not find a publisher. He was so frustrated that he self-published on Amazon, where The Martian became first a cult hit, then a popular success. Ridley Scott and Matt Damon (who played the lead) made a great movie out of it. Weir made millions. And the same publishers who’d treated him like astronaut doodoo asked him to write another novel. Artemis is the result.
Set on the moon in the near future, Artemis is a combination of murder mystery and science primer. I’m avoiding the label of “science fiction” because, just as in The Martian, much of the science, while proven and just around the corner (or orbit), has not quite happened yet.
Weir creates an entire moon colony, Artemis, where people live in conclaves named after the original American explorers (Armstrong, Aldrin, etc.) that run the gamut of ghetto-like worker residences to five-star hotels that service uber-rich tourists. Complete with brothels. (In fact, much of the experiences Weir conjures up on the moon are pretty earthy. Low-gravity sex has its charms.)
The hero of Artemis is Jasmine Bashara, a young woman who is every dad’s worst nightmare. She is a brilliant, obstinate, wise-cracking, rebellious underachiever who smuggles goodies from Earth to the moon.
Her current coffin-like sleeping quarters and communal bathroom irk her. She wants to be rich so she can live in a better part of town, eat real food instead of flavored algae, and perhaps find a stable relationship (she sleeps around a lot).
Jazz, as she’s known, has lived all her life on the moon and has no desire to go to Earth, where she would have to endure months of gravity sickness. She is always one step ahead of the authorities (who occasionally look the other way because her black-market activities are basically harmless; she abhors guns and drugs).
So, when she has a chance to earn a million “slugs” (part of the fun of Artemis is imagining a world of slugs and Gizmos) by sabotaging an aluminum-smelting operation, she jumps at it. (On the moon, it doesn’t take much to jump.)
But a double-cross and murder later, Jazz becomes a target of both drug dealers and the law, and she has to figure out a way to save her skin and protect Artemis’ independence from some really bad people. Her plan is a bit contrived, and she needs a lot of help from some very strange characters. The Artemis plot barely holds together, but the science is nifty and the humor constant.
Weir creates a world that is much stranger than the Earth and Mars of his first book. There is no NASA. Space travel is run by a Kenyan conglomerate. Religions get along on the moon, although devout Muslims like Jazz’s dad have a hard time figuring out which way is Mecca.
Artemis is narrated by Jazz, who you can’t help liking, even if you want to occasionally strangle her, like poor Dad does. He is a respected citizen in Artemis, whose thriving business she and her drunken friends once burned down by accident. But when push comes to shove, amid decompressions and explosions, not to mention molten metal and deadly gas, the old man comes around. Blood is thicker than moon dust.
Come to think of it, Jazz is the kind of daughter many of us would love to have.
Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has written 17 thrillers and mysteries, which can be found as both e-books or in print on Amazon. He still likes potatoes, but not as much as he used to. His most recent thriller, Shadow of the Black Womb, is available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA).