11/17/17

Andy Weir's Artemis Releases Tomorrow

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ARTEMIS (2017)
By Andy Weir
Crown, 320 pages.
★★★

The Martian, Andy Weir's debut novel, was a smashing success. His follow-up, Artemis, is too good to be called a sophomore slump, but it's at best a mixed bag. Fans of nerdy science will find plenty to contemplate, though the literature side of it yaws more toward Dan Brown than to Ursula K. LeGuin or Robert Heinlein.    

It is set in the near future in Artemis, a small city of 2,000 clustered in five bio bubbles on the Moon (Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad, Bean, Shepard) that has solved the problem of producing enough oxygen to keep everyone inside alive. Artemis is run by the Kenyan Space Corporation (KSC) and headed by Administrator Fidelis Ngugi, the woman who figured out how to make Kenya a leader in the space program. She is one of the many politically correct boxes Weir ticks off; there are also gay characters, Latinos, Scandinavians, a hunky Ukrainian researcher, Brazilian and Chinese baddies, our protagonist, Jasmine ("Jazz") Bashara, is of Saudi extraction, and her welder father, Ammar is a devout Muslim for whom Jazz is a disappointment. Jazz, aged 27, has lived on the Moon since she was six and considers herself an Artemisian. She's certainly not a good Muslim; she's a hard drinker, sleeps around, and walks on the razor's edge. Her biggest fear is that head of security Rudy DuBois will someday bust her small-scale smuggling operation and deport her back to Earth.

Artemis is like a big extended village, but it's not a utopia—more like Deep Space Nine set on the lunar surface and stripped of its aliens. Lots of Earth stuff is conveniently ignored: the legal drinking age, corporate monopolies, petty crime, casual sexual relations, etc. Only its wealthiest members get to eat anything other than Gunk, flavored algae, and everyone is in one way or another in thrall to KSC as the Artemisian currency, slugs, is credit from the KSC. (It's shorthand for soft-landed grams and each one is pegged to a gram of Earth cargo.) Still, tourists fly to the moon to gawk and bounce around on the surface in "hamster bubbles," and many of residents such as Jazz prefer its Mild West vibe of drinking, hookups, cussing, libertarian values, and improvised ways of making a living.

Jazz, however, wouldn't mind having a bigger living space, and that sucks her into a Get Slugs Quick scheme from a regular smuggling customer, the ridiculously rich Tron Landvik. All she has to do is slip outside the city and destroy four mineral harvesters belonging to the Sanchez Aluminum Company. As such things go, Tron's stated reason for wanting them taken down isn't his real reason. Let the caper begin. It will involve murder, a crime syndicate, geeky technology, double-dealing, hair-raising danger, an unlikely set of partnerships, and beat-the-clock scenarios.

How you'll feel about all of this takes me back to my Dan Brown analogy. Do you buy into computer-like minds that are able to do the science, overcome physical threats, and concoct improvised solutions in a parsec, or does it stretch your credulity? I can't assess Weir's science—my Ph.D. is in history, not STEM—but his solutions at least sounded logical to my right-brained thinking. His human responses, however, often rang false. To me, this novel has Hollywood thriller written all over it. Its central drama is pretty much the template for such projects, especially the put-aside-existing-prejudices-for-the-good-of-all setup.

Mind, I have no objection if Artemis becomes a good Hollywood thriller, though somehow I doubt it has the capacity to match the gravitas of Blade Runner or even The Martian. Artemis is a decent read and bad girl Jazz will grow on you as she evolves. Ultimately, though, Artemis is a pretty standard thriller dressed in enough respectable scientific garb to make it appear weighty in a setting with 16% of Earth's gravity. But, hey, I like Dan Brown.

Rob Weir*

*Note: Though we bear the same last name, to my knowledge I am in no way related to Andy Weir.

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