New York, NY: Crown, 2017
Andy Weir shot to fame as the result of his first book, The Martian, which became a best-seller as well as a prominent feature film. That book told the story of an unfortunate astronaut stranded on Mars when his colleagues were oblige to leave without him. The astronaut possesses reservoirs of scientific and technological knowledge and the ability to put this into useful practice through dexterity and clever innovation. The majority of the books as the man himself and his usually time-aspected rush to solve what appear to be impossibly difficult problems.
In Artemis, Weir attempts, not always successfully, to open the action to a small cast of characters, who revolve around the central character Jasmine or Jazz. Jazz is the daughter of a Saudi Arabian welder who has migrated to the eponymous city that is located on the moon. Artemis has reached the level of a modest-sized town, governed by a mayor and a man who is effectively the sheriff. Since it is very difficult to produce much in the way of consumer goods on the Moon, the citizens of Artemis are going to be reliant on imports from the Earth for the foreseeable future while being dependent on the tourism industry. It is clear from this that there is going to be a great deal of inequality in a society such as this and the signs of inequality will be evident in the possession of space and the items that be used to fill it. Jazz, of course, has very little space for herself and has also accumulated some unfortunate debts. Her answer to this predicament is to organize a modest but potentially lucrative smuggling ring. Alas, she is successful enough to reach the attention of people who can see a bigger picture and insert her into a scam which then drives the rest of the plot.
What is both the best and one of the worst things in the book is the relentless obsession with the science and engineering of living on the moon. No sentence is too short that three facts cannot be shoehorned into it and no conversation so inconsequential that it cannot be used as the vehicle for important technological knowledge:
“We reached the shelter hatch and I knocked on the small, round window. A face appeared – a man with watering eyes and ash-covered face. Most likely the foreman, who would have entered the shelter last. He gave me a thumbs-up and I returned the gesture (p.30).”
Not everyone will enjoy this style especially when it is combined with Jazz’s endless gag cracking (rather like Spiderman, whom one can imagine the author following) and the grotesquely simplistic characterisation of the remaining cast. To be honest, I am glad that I do not oblige myself to give a book marks out of ten on this site because I would have had to give quite a low one here – the dialogue is dreadful, the plot is ludicrous, the characters are irritatingly superficial and Jazz herself is the least credible female character I can remember encountering (and there have been quite a few unbelievable women in science fiction). However, the underlying nature of the book, which is an extended tour of how it would be possible to build and live in a moonbase, remains fascinating. The book would be better as a piece of fiction if it could have just involved an impersonal Jazz making a tour of Artemis while interacting with a computer but I imagine the publisher would not have been keen on such a thing. Instead, we are obliged to go along with the concept that technical competence is really the only characteristic that matters in valuing an individual and it is the principal means by which relationships may be maintained, damaged or repaired. Well, readers familiar with The Martian should know what to expect and would have no one to blame but themselves.
It will be interesting to see how, if at all, Weir develops his career from here. We have had Mars and the Moon so what will be next? A spaceship? A submarine marooned on the floor of the ocean? An asteroid? Perhaps he might be better advised to form a writing partnership (perhaps with a ghost writer – it has been known) as a means of combining the undoubted technical fireworks he has with a mode of fiction it is possible to enjoy in its own right.