Synopsis: 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. (Goodreads)
Themes Explored: science fiction, moon, science, space travel, crime, father issues, religion, fear, corporate greed, Robin Hood complex, gravity
Review: Full disclosure, I did not finish this book. I made it about halfway through and could not force myself to keep reading. Though I did read the last chapter just to know the ending. Given Artemis only has 305 pages, the narrative did not quite live up to the description. As a sophomore novel, Artemis, unfortunately, struggles to live up to the phenomena of The Martian. While The Martian focused on “hard” science fiction, Artemis combined science speculation with a pseudo Robin Hood storyline. I think Andy Weir writes excellent science fiction; however, he tried a little too hard with Artemis.
Part of the popularity behind The Martian, Weir’s wildly popular debut, was making an astronaut stranded on Mars a relatable protagonist. In probability, Mark Watney’s voice may just be a fictionalized version of Weir. In Artemis, Weir takes the same jokey personality and tries to jam it the body of Jazz, a blunt talking “brilliant” young woman. The results are spotty at best.
The main premise revolves around Artemis, mankind’s first and only city located on the moon. Fittingly, Artemis occupies the Sea of Tranquillity region where Apollo 11 landed. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin serve as the unofficial first founders. Unsurprisingly, this lunar city’s main income comes from a vibrant tourism economy. Approximately 2,000 people permanently live in Artemis.
Weir excels at world building, which is the saving grace of this novel. His descriptions of Artemis make the city jump off the pages and seem both familiar and foreign. A massive complex of five sphere-shaped, multi-storied, domed buildings called “bubbles” connected by tunnels form Artemis. Some bubbles contain more resources and opulence than others. To save space, the city has a sophisticated layout of hallways rather than streets. Give the tourism industry, numerous resort hotels, casinos, theaters, restaurants, boutique shops, and luxury apartments take up some of the floor space. For the workers who upkeep the city and provide service to the tourists there are various living quarters, which range from palatial to coffin-esque.
Since Artemis exists on the moon, all entrances and exits are hermetically sealed: the city complex, vehicles, space suits, the Apollo 11 Landing Site Visitors Center, the train, etc. Any exiting or entering from outside the complex must occur through an airlock.
The narrative focuses on, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a 26-year-old Saudi Arabian woman whose father moved her to the moon at age six. Due to the difference in gravity, children under six cannot live on the moon and expectant mothers must return to Earth to give birth. Jazz fails the final test to qualify for the stable job she needs because she neglected to inspect her space suit. Since she failed this entry exam, Jazz returns to working as a lowly porter and lives in the least desirable housing (aka a coffin-esque apartment). However, Jazz conveniently knows a brilliant billionaire who exploits her poverty, lack of ambition, and porter status to try her hand at a major crime as a way to get rich quick.
As a science fiction novel, Artemis works due to the great scientific explanations woven into the dialogue and descriptions. On the crime thriller front, the narrative falls flat due to a lack of suspense and poorly constructed characters. Jazz is supposed to be a smart whizz kid, but she has no formal education of any kind and keeps committing stupid infractions that make her seem less than capable. A super intelligent science whizz would know to check a space suit before wandering out into the open. All the characters suffer from one dimensionality and most of the attempts at humor come across juvenile. For instance, Jazz, a Muslim woman raised by a devout father, constantly talks about her breasts, other body parts, and all of her sexual dalliances. Even though she turned her back on religion, this dialogue seems rings a dissonant note. Reading some of Jazz’s dialogue made me think the character was originally a male and switched to female at the last minutes. Actually, given the characterization, Jazz works better as a male.
Here are some prime examples of Jazz’s dialogue. Remember, she is 26 years old, supposed to have a genius level intellect, and everyone complements her on being clever:
Switch the genders and the tone of the dialogue seems more believable. Given the lack of characterization, Jazz seems lazy, callous, selfish, unscrupulous, and incapable of speaking without vulgarity. Now women possess all these characteristics just like men; however, I find it hard to believe that a Muslim woman raised in a devout household would become so obnoxiously crude.
While the crime part of the novel really slowed down the narrative, the scientific explanation moved along at a great clip. After reading the first couple of chapters, I concluded that Weir’s main writing challenge is creating believable human interactions, or even characterization, between men and women. In an unsurprising turn, the most believable character in the narrative is a smart but socially clueless (male) scientist who struggles to make sense of other people’s thoughts and behaviors. Building believable characters takes a lot of work and experience. Hopefully Weir’s character development will improve over time. I do hope he keeps writing because he excels at writing science fiction. The world building and scientific explanation are the strongest aspects of the story and the passages that really shine all involve descriptions of this magical lunar colony. All things considering, no matter what subject his sophomore novel covered, it will always pale in comparison to The Martian. Hopefully novel number three will recapture some of the magic.
Artemis, Crown, 2017, ISBN: 9780553448122