Published in 2017, Artemis was written by Andy Weir, the man behind The Martian, a book that was funny, entertaining, a joy to read, and was one that glued me to its pages so much so that I was still reading hours after promising myself I would stop. Another novel from the same author would have to be at least as good as The Martian if not better, otherwise history might record Andy Weir as a one-hit wonder.
After The Martian, Artemis had some big shoes to fill. But before I even started reading, what struck me immediately about the book was that on the back cover it had the usual series of quotes saying how good it was and such, but when I looked a little closer I realised that all of the high praise was about The Martian and not about Artemis. This caused me to raise an arching eyebrow because it immediately seemed that it was the popularity of The Martian that was being used to sell this new book from the same author. Seriously on the cover it stated clearly “The bestselling author of The Martian” and all the comments on the back, which weren’t even for this book struck me as a little odd. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover of Artemis was saying a hell of a lot that I don’t think it meant to. Plus, a friend of my skin sack had purchased the book, read the first few chapters and then cast it aside because he didn’t like it. Personally I was prepared to give it a chance, and despite my reservations I dived in…
Welcome to the moon…
The year is…er…actually I don’t think they ever tell you exactly what year it is. It is referenced at one point saying it is about a hundred years or so ahead of now. So let’s assume that the year is 2120ish. The story opens with a young woman named Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara racing back to the airlock on one of the habitation bubbles that now exist on the moon. Her air supply is failing due to a faulty spacesuit and whilst she makes it back alive, she fails her EVA exam meaning that she cannot get out of her dead end job as a porter and start taking tourists out on EVA trips onto the moon’s surface (EVA is basically a fancy way of saying moon or space walks). As a result the good life that she’d been trying to work for remains beyond her reach so she has no choice but to return to her job delivering stuff.
Jazz is also a smuggler and is the moon’s only smuggler. She manages to stay below the radar importing in various items, however, she never smuggles guns or weapons, so effectively she is a smuggler with a conscience.
She is estranged from her father and often clashes with the head of Artemis’ security Rudy who would like nothing more than to deport her back to Earth.
Jazz lives in a small dwelling which she calls a coffin. Think of those pod-things that people in Tokyo sleep in and you’ve got the gist plus she has to use communal facilities such as showers. Her dreams of getting enough slugs (that is moon currency) to buy her own place with a shower and enough space to actually stand up in, seem to become a reality when she is offered a job by wealthy businessman Trond Landvik. If she sabotages four moon harvesters belonging to a rival company, he will give her one million slugs, which will be more than enough to give her the life she always wanted.
Unfortunately after taking the job she brings herself to the attention of an assassin who will stop at nothing to see her dead and the entire population of Artemis also winds up being in danger, in more ways than one…
Before I say anything else about the characters, setting and writing, I want to address something that annoyed me. When Jazz is planning how she is going to disable the harvesters she keeps referring to it as a “heist” but a heist involves something being stolen, she isn’t planning on stealing anything, so she is planning sabotage, not a heist. I honestly have no idea why Jazz keeps calling it a heist. Everyone around her keeps saying she is really smart and doesn’t live up to her own potential, and so on, and yet this is someone who doesn’t know the difference between an act of sabotage and a heist.
Jazz herself is apparently quite attractive as she states it a couple of times, but she also is a tearaway who has always been someone a bit difficult to get along with. She has been burned by relationships both romantic and friendships in the past so keeps most people at arm’s length. But she carries that around like she’s the only one who has ever had someone break up with her, or leave her for someone else. If she hadn’t been so awkward as a child and teenager she wouldn’t have ended up as a porter who smuggles on the side to make ends meet. I think the biggest thing about her though is that she is pretty forgettable. I read The Martian a 2011 and could easily remember bits of the dialogue now, I finished reading Artemis a day or two ago and I can’t really remember anything especially interesting about Jazz or anyone around her. That isn’t to say that I disliked her as a character but she is such a tomboy that it makes me wonder why Weir chose to write her as a female. She carries a massive chip on her shoulder but she is the architect of her own misdeeds as everything that happened to her is a result of her own life choices.
I’m also not really sure exactly who Jazz is telling her story to, in The Martian Mark Watney was making logs as a record of what was happening to him and how he fought for his survival in the event he didn’t make it. The story switched from the 1st person perspective, to 3rd person when talking about other characters. Watney is talking to “us” the audience but his audience are people who find the logs after he has perished. I have read other 1st person perspective stories before The Vampire Chronicles (at least the couple I’ve read) had the main character is telling their story to the Interviewer. Stone had the protagonist telling their story to a stone that shares their prison. Even episodes of Star Trek have had characters narrating a story but it is always established they are making personal logs so they are talking to a computer. In Artemis Jazz is obviously talking to someone but who exactly is that someone?? Who does she think she is telling the story to?? She sometimes even directly poses questions to her audience, (rhetorically obviously) but who are we and why is she talking to us?? Is she sitting at a bar telling her story to the barman?? Who knows, and we never find out.
The book included a helpful diagram of what Artemis looks like, and the city is basically separated into a series of domes named after various moon pioneers (like Aldrin and Armstrong). But it didn’t really need to have bothered to have pictures, think about how you’d think a city on the moon would look like, and yep it looks like that. Five domes with interconnected walkways. The surface hasn’t been terraformed or been given an artificial atmosphere, nor are we in a massive city that in encased in a huge sphere, nope, we are in a series of domes.
I have to admit though that whilst the city of Artemis is not exactly original it is plausible using current human levels of science. That is one thing that Weir is good at, he can describe how structures work, and how the city functions but none of it is especially interesting. The technology is not that much ahead of your current level but that is part of the problem, it is different enough, but it is also familiar. If you are going to write about a city on the moon then go all out. Make it a massive city, have the moon covered by a shield, demonstrate that structures can be weird and wonderful shapes in the moon’s gravity…but no, five bubbles on the surface connected by walkways. No underground structure like Total Recall (the Arnie one) or shielded cities like in Star Trek or terraforming machines like the one that made LV-426’s atmosphere breathable seen in Aliens.
In The Martian this style of familiar but a little futuristic worked as that story is set around now-ish or very near-future. Artemis is a hundred odd years ahead of now, so why has the technology not moved very far forward?
I know I am comparing Artemis to The Martian a lot but they remaind you as much as possible that this is by the same author. So they are basically asking you to make comparisons between the two otherwise why mention it?? Micheal Critchton's novels used to have names of other books he'd written but I can't remember ever having the back cover of his novel for Sphere talking about how great Jurassic Park is. So why does Artemis do that??
It probably sounds like I really didn’t like Artemis and that is not true, it was entertaining enough and I stuck with it because I honestly wanted to see how things turned out. Jazz wasn’t an offensive character and the others around her seemed to just be trying to help her out of the mess she’d gotten herself into.
She’s kind-of friends with a tech guy who helps her with stuff she smuggles as well as other things she needs to conduct her act of sabotage. But he also is involved in a frankly bizarre subplot. He had developed a reusable condom...stick with me…essentially condoms cost more on the moon and his invention means that one can be used, turned inside out, sterilised, and then used again. Jazz offers to pay him for the work he’s doing to aid her sabotage and he instead shows her the condom and asks her to test it for him. Jazz flatly refuses to have sex with him, but he is a nerdy guy that is nervous around woman (what a stand out character, a nerd who is awkward around women, what will Weir think of next??) and didn’t intend her to use it with him. Nor does he want to simply have sex with a prostitute. He wants to get an objective opinion from someone who is having sex just for the fun of it and assumes that Jazz is just the person to try it out.
What to know where this subplot goes??
Absolutely bloody nowhere, he gives her the condom, mentions it when he sees her over the next few days but she doesn’t use it by the end of the story. I didn’t drop a spoiler warning because it is not much of a subplot and seems to just be there to fill some pages.
It isn’t the only weird subplot either.
I’m not going to go through them all but aside from the condom one above, the other very strange one revolves around her best friend, Dale, stealing her lover. She basically severed all ties with Dale (or as much as possible on the moon) but he wants them to still be friends and finds a way of blackmailing her into hanging out with him again. Mate, take the hint, if she wants nothing to do with you then why are you forcing her to be your friend because she is hanging out with you because you’ve blackmailed her rather than because she wants to.
How hard up for friends is he??
The more of this review I write the more holes I am picking in Artemis and perhaps if it had been a first novel I may have liked it better. But it comes from the mind of the author of The Martian and that book seemed to have been written because the author wanted to tell the story of Mark Watney. Artemis seems to have been written because the author has published a bestselling novel on their first try and could now write whatever they wanted to, but didn’t want to go too far from The Martian’s comfort zone.
Artemis is at its core very safe sci-fi. It doesn’t push any boundaries, it doesn’t provide any standout characters, and it moves along at a pace sufficient to keep the reader interested enough to keep reading. But that’s it. Jazz is nothing more than a tomboy with a chip on her shoulder, nothing we haven’t seen before, and those around her are the same. In a year if someone asks me to describe The Martian I’ll be able to do it, but if someone asks me to describe Artemis in a month I doubt I’ll be able to.
I am not going to give Artemis a Thumbs Down because it is not a bad book, but it is too safe and doesn’t try to do anything in the least bit original. A Thumbs Up is too much praise so I will have to leave my Thumb Horizontal, if you want to nice mindless sci-fi that thinks it is a bit cleverer than it is then check out Artemis, if you want to see Weir at his best, The Martian is still your best bet.
6.5/10 – I’ve read a lot of sci-fi books plus seen a lot of sci-fi films and perhaps that is the main problem. I have seen everything within Artemis’ pages before and more often than not done better. Jazz is not a bad character but she is like everyone who tries to get rich quick…things go wrong…what a shocker