Hardcover, 305 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
The Martian was one of the more standout novels of the last few years for me, for a handful of reasons. I will admit that a weakness of mine is the “snarky, funny, too-smart-for-the-room, good-at-everything white guy in space” trope, ala John Scalzi, and The Martian filled that niche perfectly for me, in a unique and interesting setting and premise. With the hype that’s come since, including the major motion picture, a lot of eyes and a lot of expectations were riding on Weir’s followup, Artemis. Did the sophomore effort stand up to the expectations? For the most part.
Artemis follows protagonist Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a Saudi emigrant living in Artemis, a manned international city on Earth’s moon. Artemis is a multicultural and semi-unregulated city, largely serving tourists from earth who come to the moon to sightsee landmarks such as the Apollo 11 landing site, but also containing some industry such as aluminum maunfacturing, or in Jazz’s case – smuggling. Jazz gets by, defying her father, a renowned welder, by living the opposite of the Islamic lifestyle he did – drinking, having sex, partaking in illegal activities.
Jazz scrapes by until approached by a wealthy acquaintance, who presents her with a situation to make herself rich for life by going a bit outside her comfort zone, and performing huge-scale vandalism on the largest company present on the moon, Sanchez Aluminum. As Jazz goes through the process, she discovers that there are a lot more layers than she was initially presented with, and she soon finds herself fighting for her life, hiding from killers, and trying to resolve a situation that will affect the livelihood and politics of Artemis for generations to come.
The story, for it’s part, does a great job of carrying the real stars of the book – the characters. Jazz is a vibrant, charismatic late teenage woman, with a darker version of the snarky, self-deprecating humor that Mark Watney had in The Martian. She is, however, a little too close to what you get if you say to a man “please write a strong female character” – that is, basically interchangeable with a man for the sake of the story. She is true to herself throughout the novel, however – she’s independent and self-sufficient, strong, funny, and smart. Too smart. However, as far as being entertaining, Jazz is great.
The list of ancillary characters are what really drew the story together for me. From her father, to the leaders of the city, her business partners, her ‘enemies’ – most are various shades of gray, characters with some depth and their own motivations, rather than blindly going along with whatever Jazz needs them to do for the sake of the story. The interludes of her communicating with her ‘pen pal’ on earth were very enjoyable, and rounded out the story quite nicely, adding some depth to the world and situation, and a nice little glimpse into some of Jazz’s past and present.
The execution of the novel itself is largely quite good. Weir keeps things moving along at all times, yet also fits quite a bit into the relatively short 300 page book. As with The Martian, there’s a certain level of science involved to explain a lot of situations, but also as with The Martian, it’s very easy to follow and understand, and in a way comes across as simple-science-presented-as-complicated-science-explained-simply, if that makes sense. I never really felt confused as to why something was happening, nor did I foresee any major upcoming issues with my knowledge base, nor did I really predict much that was going to happen going forward. The actual progress of the entire caper was a lot of fun, and very white-knuckle at times while the characters were in some real danger. I really blasted through the book, excited to find out what would happen next.
As with The Martian, it was not perfect, and some obvious nitpicks could be made. In Artemis, one of the biggest things folks seem to be mentioning is that Jazz is quite the Mary Sue – she is constantly praised for being soooo smart, she seems to go from amateur to pro in everything she touches in a very short period of time, and almost everything she does either works out for her, or works out after a minor audible. She even has some moments of self-righteous bragging over her accomplishments, but it came across as somewhat endearing at the time. I did take exception to the one thing I saw coming from a mile away – Jazz’s friend Svobota, a scientist, is the dorky-well-meaning-nice-guy who does everything for her and pledges loyalty until the end. I called it early on that in the end, the ‘nice guy’ would get the girl, and of course…well, let’s just say I was not thrilled with how that played out, and the encouragement towards ‘nice guys’ that took place.
As a whole, Artemis was an enjoyable, quick romp, with a lot of redeeming characters and writing, entertaining dialogue, and a fascinating political climate. I can definitely look past some of it’s shortcomings in the name of keeping the book short and compact, getting through the story without an excess of words, and keeping the readers engaged throughout.
Sidenote: Rosario Dawson does a splendid job with the high-end production quality of the audiobook.
Rating: 4.25 / 5