Andy Weir's Artemis Releases Tomorrow


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.


More from Canada's National Gallery


Art Road Trip: Ottawa Part Two

In an earlier post I featured Canadian art from the National Gallery of Art in Ottawa, Ontario. In this post I feature a few other things to investigate.

Canada is, by area, the world's second largest nation, though the bulk of its population lives within a hundred miles of the US border. Yet those large, underpopulated regions have dramatic influence upon weather pattern, hence Canadians are also among the most geographically aware people on the planet. It should thus come as little surprise that Canadians and landscape painting go together like love and maple syrup—a Gordon Lightfoot reference for those wondering about the analogy. 

Varley: Stormy Weather Georgian Bay

Thomson: Jack Pine
MacDonald:The Solemn Land

Lawren Harris

Emily Carr
Probably the most famous of all of Canada's art coteries was the Group of Seven—landscape painters whose peak period was the 1920s and 1930s. Originally they included Frank Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, but it was a changing lineup that wasn't always seven. In fact, two of its most famous members were not originals: Tom Thomson and, a personal favorite, Emily Carr, whose depictions of totem poles and the Canadian West differentiated her from the rest, who were mainly Ontarians and Quebecers. These days, thanks to Steve Martin, Lawren Harris is probably the best known of the bunch.

Yvonne Houser: Rossport Lake Superior

Canadian landscapes often covey a sense of largeness and majesty. Most lack human subjects and if you've been to the Canadian Shield, the Rockies, or the Far North, you can understand why. I've not been north, but those other places have a way of making you think humans are pretty damn puny compared to the settings in which they roam. There's also a hard-to-describe mystery about some of those places. Harris portrays hat quite well in paintings whose subjects are at once real and surreal. Thomson does this as well, but with interplay of light and natural features.

William Raphael: Behind Bonsecouers Market, Montreal
Houser: Cobalt
Oddly, Canadian town and cityscapes often take on toy-like features: wooden structures that that evoke building blocks, streets filled with figures that border on folk art, and villages set amidst outsized features. Canadian painters also tackle historical subjects such as the coming of railroads, contacts with First Nations people, and so on. And, let's face it; Canada gets a lot of snow, a detail in all sorts of painting.   

Alex Colville (1920-2013) isn't very well known outside of Canada, but he's one of my all-time favorite artists. He painted with the same sparseness and evocations of emotional isolation as Edward Hopper and is sometimes called the Canadian Hopper. People look everywhere except at each other, but where they gaze is as debatable as the Mona Lisa's smile. There are also echoes of Winslow Homer.

Like any other museum, I have personal favorites. A few are depicted below.

Joseph Legare: Josephine Ourne
Prudence Howard Rollande
Harris: Toronto Street

Liubov Popova: The Pianist


The Dressmaker Has Too Many Loose Seams


Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
Universal Pictures, 118 minutes, R (language)

The Dressmaker, an Australian comedy, concludes with a delicious revenge scenario. Would that everything that came before it been as good. Alas, Jocelyn Moorhouse serves us a film that's quirky, but not quirky enough; weird, but not weird enough; goofy, but not goofy enough; and surreal, but not surreal enough. Detect a pattern?

The Aussies have a talent for offbeat comedy and have produced such small gems as The Castle, Strictly Ballroom, Malcolm, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This one seeks, but doesn't quite find, that same vibe.* It takes us to the Outback settlement of Dungatar, which would be nowhere at all except inexplicably it's near another town, Winyerp, and the two are rivals. It opens in 1951 when Myrtle ("Tilly") Dunnage (Kate Winslet), arrives at the local train station dressed to the nines, her red lipstick a rare flash of color amidst the parched gray and yellow landscape. Her mother, known as Mad Molly (Judy Davis), lives in Dungatar, but Tilly's not there to see mum and mum doesn't want to see her. Tilly wants to know what happened 25 years earlier. All she can remember is that she was accused of being responsible for young Stewart Pettyman's death in 1928, when they were both eight and that she was exiled from the town. Was she really the young murderess she was accused of being? Does this explain why she feels cursed? 

In her exile to the city (Melbourne?), Tilly picked up some serious seamstress skills. She wears clothes that disgust the local women—until they see how she turns the heads of every man who looks at her. Locals still think she's a cold-blooded killer, but when her red dress turns a soccer match against Winyerp to Dungatar's favor and her dressmaking skills help frumpy Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook) ensnare a beau, they are willing to hold their noses and beg her to make frocks for them. Soon we are treated to the absurdity of windblown Outback matrons decked out in high couture. That's a pretty funny idea, but the subtexts are labored. Stewart's father, town councilor Evan Pettyman (Shane Bourne) hates Tilly, blames her for his son's death, poisons townsfolk against her, and even recruits a rival dressmaker to compete with her. Her only friends in town are hunky Teddy McSwiney (Liam Helmsworth), his half-witted brother, Barney (Gyton Grantley), and local police sergeant Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving), who loves the gowns Tilly sews and can't wait to try them on!

As you can see, The Dressmaker has all the makings of a Joel and Ethan Coen film—except that it never lives up to that potential. The search for what really happened in 1928 rests on a pretty lame repressed memory device and all the primping and preening starts to feel like a really bad mall fashion show. To underscore an earlier critique, a key pivot point comes new tragedies unfold, except they're not sad enough to be poignant, nor camp enough to be funny. Then we get the reveal and payback, the latter of which is vicious and satisfying, though its tone is out of keeping with that of the rest of the film.

Winslet is fine in the film, but it's really just a walk through for her, Davis, Hemsworth, and Weaving. There are a few laughs and that final scene, which could have only been improved had someone more acid, like Tilda Swinton been in the role of Tilly. Overall, there's nothing inherently awful about The Dressmaker and it would certainly fit the bill as a download for a night in which you don't want to do much except crump in your favorite chair and veg out for a few hours. Just keep your expectations low.

Rob Weir

* Oddly, The Dressmaker was Australia's top box office grosser for 2015. That probably explains why Universal picked it up for a 2016 release in the US.