Arts book review

Second novel by Andy Weir, author of ‘The Martian’, falls short of expectations

Great science, fascinating world building, but boring characters

8404 fullmoon2010 creative commons
The Moon.
Gregory H. Revera, Creative Commons License

By Andy Weir
November 2017

Jazz Bashara is a smuggler on humanity’s Moon colony, Artemis. Technically, she’s a delivery girl, or porter, by day and a smuggler by night as she tries to amass enough money to buy an EVA suit. This suit will allow her to climb up the Artemis social ladder and mix some excitement into her life; as an EVA tour guide, she can leave the confines of the bubbled-in city and take tourists out exploring the Moon’s terrain. Of course, being a smuggler means Jazz gets mixed up into some trouble, which makes for most of the plot of Artemis.  

The book has overarching themes of class and plot devices typical in a story where there are haves and have nots. There’s an interesting amount of detail about how the moon colony would function from an engineering perspective, which immediately engaged me. For example, I really appreciate the detailed explanation behind the lunar currency, the slug. One slug is the cost of shipping one gram of material from Earth to the Moon, which I thought was pretty elegant.

Weir does a good job illustrating facets of life in Artemis. Careers in the lunar society run on a guild-based system, which presents a challenge to Jazz as she struggles to pass guild exams to become an EVA tour guide. Children brought to the Moon at a young age (or born there) have a different muscle structure than Earth-side humans, which makes the ultimate legal penalty— deportation to Earth — a death sentence for Jazz which adds extra tension since she regularly breaks the law as a smuggler.  

Given the satisfying amount of world-building, the book had a lot of potential but ended up falling flat about halfway through.

The prose is written in a style similar to Andy Weir’s previous bestseller, The Martian — a first-person narrative filled with snarky, self-deprecating humor. Despite the obvious differences in sex, occupation, race, etc., a friend of mine remarked that it seems Weir can only write one type of main character. For better or worse, I’m inclined to concur with my friend. While I rooted for Jazz and her confederates, I didn’t get emotionally attached to any of the characters, which, let me tell you, is an extremely rare occurrence. Jazz’s father, who ended up being my favorite character, was a welder (which was important to the story), and so I learned a lot about welding, so that was cool.

The plot for most of the book centers around a heist, which doesn’t turn out to be very interesting. Nothing super world-critical is at stake (before Jazz starts meddling at least) and the bad guys have pretty uninspired characterization as your run-of-the-mill mafia gang.

Though I enjoyed the book, I probably wouldn’t re-read it. But if a movie version were to come out, I’d go see it. I thought Weir’s The Martian was far superior because the premise was a little more unique — lone man, stranded on a faraway planet, which took the “castaway shipwrecked on a deserted island” story and adapted it to a compelling new level where the deserted island became Mars. Artemis didn’t quite live up to that — classism and economic corruption in a newly settled land (the Moon) wasn’t as exciting to me without good characterization beside it.