Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.
This was a huge disappointment as Andy Weir's first book, The Martian, was a real favorite of mine and I was really looking forward to seeing how he did with a different sort of story. Unfortunately, for me the new book is something of a cross between a YA book and an engineering manual featuring aluminum manufacturing. If this sounds like an awkward mixture, it is because it is.

Weir obviously loves engineering and how our lives depend on it, often in ways we don't think about. In the The Martian the story drove our need to know about engineering so the hero could survive. In the case of Artemis, our need to know is not obvious as the heroine engages in a shady deal to score 1 million slugs (lunar currency). However, the story often pauses to point out how aluminum provides more than enough oxygen to keep humans supplied and so forth. By the end, we do indeed need to know details about aluminum manufacturing, however I am fairly sure I needed to know less than half the information which we stopped so often to absorb.

Enough of the engineering side. But what of the story itself? It is a heist tale with tendrils that sink into the seamy underbelly of the lunar economy. Unfortunately it is told to us by Jazz, a young woman who has the virtue of being a genius and very stubborn but who otherwise has almost no personality. She has a secret — why does she need a million slugs? But we are told so little about it that I soon forgot she had a secret at all. And I never cared about it or her. I don't mind YA, or as they used to call them in Robert Heinlein's day, juvenile stories but this had little of Heinlein's skill which always told the story about engaging characters first and filled in details/science only as necessary to keep things rolling along.

In fact, by the time the final big plan was being laid out for the assembled gang, I had become so bored that it was only by a sheer effort of will that I finished the book at all.

That isn't to say that the book doesn't have good points. I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding. Artemis and the way citizens lived was really interesting. The letters between Jazz and her penpal were wonderful at giving us information briefly but evocatively. If more of the book had been like that, it would have been much more interesting. There was one sequence which grabbed me when Jazz was doing a job for a local mob-boss on the lunar surface. Obviously one of Weir's authorial skills is creating high tension moments and making readers care about their outcome. Unfortunately this book only pulled that off once for me.

I appreciate that Weir is trying something different and it has to be insanely difficult to follow up a first novel that was also made into a big movie. More than anything this book makes me interested to see how his next book turns out.

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