Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Artemis, by Andy Weir

I really enjoyed this rollicking thriller by the author of The Martian. Like that, it's full of practical problem-solving in space, this time on the lunar colony Artemis sometime after the year 2072 (ie more than a hundred years after the last Apollo landing).

It takes 10 pages before we learn that our gutsy narrator is female. Jasmine "Jazz" Bashira is a porter (ie courier) with a line in illegal smuggling, to the despair of her respectable father - a welder and practising Muslim. She's lived on the Moon since she was six, and since her teens lived a rough existence just about surviving on her own wits. She's canny, adept, brave and wise-cracking, and an engaging character.

Other characters are also well drawn, and towards the end Jazz has to get a bunch of them to work together who we know are going to clash. That works really well. I also liked the minor character inspired by the real-life gruff Londoner who played the first Doctor Who:
"That evening, I hit my favorite watering hole: Hartnell's Pub [...] I loved the place. Partically because Billy was a pleasant bartender, but mainly because it was the closest bar to my coffin."
Andy Weir, Artmeis, p. 32. 
The proof copy I read says film rights to Artmeis have been sold to 20th Century Fox, so I wonder who will play Billy - perhaps he might be CGI.

Initially it looks like the book will involve a simple heist, but things soon become much more complex - and that lets us explore the lunar colony from inside and out, examining the infrastructure and politics and various power blocs involved. Just as in The Martian, existing in space is fraught with difficulty and danger. But whereas that was effectively Robinson Crusoe on Mars, with one smart astronaut battling the elements - and odds - to stay alive, this is a busier story with villains up to no good.

I have two criticisms. First, although Jazz is an engaging lead, she's also a very blokey one. This is a male-dominated environment and her life is defined by men: the dad she's estranged from; the rich guy she works for; the sort-of cop trying to deport her; the bloke on Earth she gets to send contraband; the various men she has or might have sex with. There are only a small number of women characters - the woman in charge of Artemis, the teenage daughter of her employer, and a scientist working for the bad guys - and it's a shame Jazz doesn't have any female friends of her own age.

I can see that isolates her, makes her situation harder. But it doesn't help that at one point she disguises herself as a prostitute, or that a supposedly symapthetic male character keeps referring to Jazz's breasts. That cuts against what's otherwise a compelling female lead, in a book that deals in issues other writers might have ignored, such as the practicalities of religion or disability while living on the Moon.

I also thought the ending was a bit easy - especially when so much of the book is about things being more tricky than they first appear, and simple jobs having unexpected and dire consequences. Given the scale of the crisis, affecting the whole of the colony, it seems a little unlikely that no one is killed or permanently injured. That comes down to some extraordinary luck on Jazz's part, and perhaps the ending might have been stronger if the cost of saving the colony and ensuring its future was that - as frequently threatened - she got sent back to Earth.

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