Andy Weir is his own worst enemy. In Artemis he offers his readers a 26 year old Saudi-born Moon woman named Jazz, but one could be forgiven for confusing her voice with that of 42 year old American born Martian Mark Watney. Their sarcasm and their approach to problem solving are both very similar, despite their wildly different backgrounds. For the most part this is okay, but occasionally Weir will throw an absolute clunker of a line onto the page and hope that it will land; often it will not, and will go on bouncing indefinitely until it splats against the farthest reaches of your mind.
On the Lunar city Artemis, porter Jazz Bashara gets by with a little light smuggling while trying to qualify for an EVA licence to make bigger money through Moonwalking. When Jazz is asked to escalate her criminal activity from “light smuggling” to “light treason”, she quickly finds herself in over her head, and must scheme and counter scheme in order to stay alive.
In Artemis, Weir continues his extreme devotion to technical details: it’s not enough to know that Jazz is welding something, for instance; we must know the exact chemical composition of her flame and the precise calculations of heat displacement needed in order to melt one thing to another thing. Weir is writing for people exactly like him who love to know precisely how one might go about achieving feats of engineering on the Moon; there’s definitely an audience for it, but the casual reader (ie most readers) will simply nod and accept what they’re told without specifically worrying about it.
Artemis is obsessed with the concept of the “heist” even though what Jazz commits might not exactly fit into that little box. In fact, Artemis attempts to categorise itself several times, even as Weir swerves against these expectations. There are many concepts at play here and the narrative is slightly less than predictable as a result. The book that you end up with is not the same that you started with, and that is an overall positive.
When Jazz is not being Watney she’s fairly empathetic and entertaining, although her polymath nature does sometimes wear thin. Jazz interacts with characters who eventually emerge from behind the pre-conceived notions that she holds of them, and through it all we get an idea of what the Moon is like – even if we might have liked to have seen more of it.
Artemis is a zippy book written by a man who cares very deeply about things that others may only have a superficial interest in, but it’s hard to hold that against him. Artemis proves that he can write an ensemble piece when the characters are all on the same celestial body, not just when they’re far, far apart.
Certainly Artemis doesn’t have as broad of an appeal as The Martian, but it also feels slightly less like it was written for the denizens of Reddit. This is a net win, and one can hopefully look forward to more space capers (scapers?) in future.