Rating: 6.9 (out of 10)
No matter what Andy Weir did for his second novel, it was a forgone conclusion that he wasn’t going to duplicate the success of The Martian. The peculiar upward trajectory of that phenomenon – from a free web serial to best-selling 99 cent ebook to exponentially bigger print bestseller to award winning blockbuster film – simply cannot be repeated.
Don’t get me wrong, Artemis is going to sell a lot of books. Weir has a name now and a legion of dedicated fans who salivate over his marriage of procedural hard sci-fi and old-fashioned story tropes. It’ll sit atop the bestseller lists for a while. The movie will get made, and will probably even be a hit. With Artemis, Weir doesn’t try to regenerate the underdog survival story that resonated so deeply with The Martian’s readers and audience, instead spinning an Ocean’s Eleven-type crime caper on the moon. This decision will likely whittle his readership down considerably to those who were attracted to the detail obsessed techno-savvy, sarcastic humor and science-based suspense of his first novel, and weed out those who were primarily in it for the survival-against-all-odds emotional catharsis.
Weir does something admirable in his approach to Artemis that I think bears mentioning. In the typical golden age sci-fi narrative, ingenuity and advanced problem-solving skills were the exclusive providence of the blue-blooded American straight white cis-male. While The Martian recycled that convention, it also suggested that the world was more than just America and that heroes don’t always have to be white dudes. In Artemis, Weir makes good on that suggestion by reversing the old standard: the white guys are relegated to supporting/sidekick type roles while an international, multi-ethnic cast of characters takes center stage. His new hero is an Arab woman who basically serves the same function that Mark Whatney served in The Martian – being the author’s vehicle for overcoming obstacles using acquired scientific knowledge, reasoning skills and on-your-toes thinking.
Jazz Bashara, a Saudi-born but moon-raised woman, lives in the only city on the moon – the titular Artemis. She’s a small-time criminal who has a monopoly over Artemis’ smuggling trade, but manages to stay on the right side of the law by being ethical and keeping more unsavory criminal enterprises from muscling their way in. A too-good-to-pass-up deal comes her way involving the sabotage of some mining equipment, but when it goes south she finds herself having to hide from some very dangerous people and take an even bigger risk to set things right.
Artemis is a “take the good with the bad” kind of experience. I’m not a fan of Weir’s sense of humor – the relentlessly sarcastic tone of the novel wore down on me as it went along, and some of the lowbrow jokes border on offensive. Interpersonal relationships and conflicts are also not among Weir’s strongest attributes, and there is much more of that here than there was in his previous novel. Weir’s writing is unsteady when trying to find an emotional center for his protagonist; he will often negate a nice dramatic beat by following with a frustratingly opaque one. However, his methodical approach to plotting is still compulsively readable – like an episode of CSI in space – so when he gets down to business there is plenty of fun to be had. Overall, Artemis is an enjoyable, if low-gravity, experience.