Pardon the Technicalities
Andy Weir's Artemis solid sci-fi that often gets hung up on the details
By: Richard Perhacs
Andy Weir rocked the publishing world with The Martian, a self-published project turned blockbuster that was picked up by Random House, sold over five million copies, and made into a Ridley Scott hit starring Matt Damon. Weir's follow-up novel, Artemis, was a best-seller before it went on sale. Good thing, too, as we'll see. Computer programmer Weir seems to be a genuine eccentric, living in a rented two room apartment despite his financial success. Afraid of flying, he never visited the Hungarian set of Scott's movie adaptation of The Martian.
Weir sets Artemis in Earth's first permanent lunar colony where his protagonist, Jasmine "Jazz" Bishara, a 26-year-old Saudi woman with little formal education, nonetheless pauses in her narrative every few pages to explain the science behind the mind-boggling technology. Somehow, she intuitively knows things that would have taken the rest of us several college degrees to figure out. The daughter of a working stiff welder, Jazz's life is hardscrabble in a pressure suit as she battles poverty, scratching out a living as a low-level smuggler until she stumbles into an opportunity to make real money by engaging in industrial sabotage on a lunar scale. Things unravel when the silent partners of the oxygen generating facility she's been paid to trash turn out to be — stay with me — Brazilian mafia dons. Their lack of amusement at Jazz's money-making scheme leads to what could have been an exciting climax, were it not for the endless lapses in the action to explain things like variations in the melting point of ore smelter walls.
Artemis is full of complex technical information that often gets in the way of a good tale that only needed enough science to give it credibility. In The Martian, Weir's prose flowed reasonably well, despite the technical data woven into its folds. But Artemis has a far more complex plot with many more characters to accommodate it, and may have taxed Weir's ability to hold his audience. It's also populated with characters who all speak with the same glib, smart aleck voice we hear non-stop from Jazz. The first person point of view allows a reader to get inside the head of the protagonist, and, in skilled hands, it can reveal vulnerability and self-doubt in the most hard-boiled character, or sensitivity in the cruelest villain. But Weir never lets Jazz drop her guard, and makes monochrome what could have been a more interesting, complex character.
Artemis also fails to capitalize on opportunities to paint a vivid portrait of a world that the few humans who've seen it first-hand have described as hauntingly beautiful. I didn't expect to hear a poetic description of the lunar surface from Neil Armstrong, but, from an artist, I do expect something more than Jazz's dismissal of the moonscape as "gray, dusty terrain."
So, you're thinking only two stars for Artemis? Not quite. Despite its issues, Artemis is a clever tale, and the heavy dose of science, while distracting, was interesting. I suspect sci-fi fans will love it, and that counts. As much science as fiction, it's worthy of two and a half stars.
Random House; 305 pages; $16.00 (soft cover) // Richard Perhacs practices law in Erie and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Popular Fiction. He can be reached with comments and suggestions for reviews at firstname.lastname@example.org.