Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was one of the best science fiction novels of the past decade, so I was naturally intrigued when I heard about his new book, Artemis. On the one hand, Weir’s success means that he’ll likely have a much larger audience for Artemis than he initially did for The Martian, which he had to self-publish on Amazon. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to avoid comparing Artemis to The Martian, and unfortunately that comparison does Weir’s new book no favors.
Artemis takes place on a lunar colony named, appropriately enough, Artemis. The book follows Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a bright young woman who has become the local fixer. She smuggles in contraband, such as cigars, for the lunar residents. Jazz is a survivor, but she’s just surviving. When we meet her, most of her most important relationships have turned sour. She’s a character with a lot of personal baggage whose only goal now is to save enough money to buy a room with its own private shower. When presented with a “get-rich-quick” scheme by a lunar tycoon, Jazz jumps at the opportunity. However, things don’t go as planned and Jazz finds herself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy at the heart of Artemis.
Like The Martian, this book features Weir’s trademark science info dumps. Characters still have to “science the shit” out of their problems, although this time there’s more of a focus on chemistry than on biology. However, where Mark Whatney’s encyclopedic knowledge of biology and chemistry in The Martian made sense – after all, he was one of the preeminent botanists on Earth. Jazz apparently learned about chemistry from her father, a structural welder, but she comes across as just a bit too conveniently prodigal for someone who makes a living smuggling luxury goods into the colony. That said, Weir does create some fun scenarios involving science gone awry near the end of the book.
Unfortunately, Weir’s trademark humor doesn’t fit this story. I laughed out loud while reading The Martian, but the humor also fit the story and characters. Whatney used humor as a coping mechanism as he figured out how to get off Mars. By contrast, Weir’s attempts at humor in Artemis often fell flat or jarring. Some of the sexual humor in particular just came across uncomfortably awkward. When a scientist asks Jazz if they’re friends, he responds, “You’re my only friend with boobs.” Later in the book, Jazz’s father asks if one of Jazz’s male friends is a “friend with benefits.” Instead of laughing, I found myself cringing. Real people don’t talk like that. I hate to psychoanalyze an author, but I found myself wondering if Weir just doesn’t know how to write female protagonists.
Speaking of Jazz, I never came to like or even respect her. Part of the problem is that her self-righteous attitude doesn’t ring true to the story. Jazz breaks the law, betrays people she loves, and commits acts of industrial sabotage that destroy property and risk lives, but she never seems sorry for her actions. Nor does she face any consequences. Instead, she just tries to blame others. In one scene, she tries to guilt-trip a police officer who caught her in the act of committing a major crime by reminding him that he slept with her boyfriend years ago. And, remarkably, it works!
Perhaps the greatest problem with Artemis isn’t that it’s bad, but rather that it’s generic. The corporate conspiracy plot seems like something that has appeared in dozens of other sci-fi novels about lunar colonies (indeed, it is remarkably similar to Ian McDonald’s Luna novels). Perhaps the old saying is right and there’s nothing truly new under the lunar sun.
Overall, this novel was a quick and even fun read, but it also never really engaged me. If you just want a sci-fi adventure with lots of science thrown in, this might fit the bill. Just don’t expect another Martian.
Artemis will be published on November 14, 2017.
[NOTE: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review]