Book Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 3.75 out of 5 Stars
Jazz is a twenty-six-year-old woman who has lived on the Moon for most of her life. Estranged from her father over her lifestyle, she is a porter, who picks up and delivers goods to the various people living on the Moon. She does the smuggling on the side, which brings in the more lucrative profits. She has big dreams she wants to achieve, especially so she can no longer live in poverty. When she’s offered an out-of-the-ordinary job to sabotage a large company on the Moon, she’s lured in by the biggest payday of her life. But when things go sideways, Jazz goes on the run because someone has put a price on her head! Will she be able to figure out all the pieces of this complicated puzzle, extricate herself from this predicament and get the big payday?
Jazz is a multifaceted character. She’s a bit wild, a bit brash, drinks beer with the guys and isn’t very religious. But she is highly intelligent, creative, sarcastic and is able to think on her feet. Interestingly, she also has a strong code of ethics when it comes to her smuggling career. She uses these skills to help her evade the law but she doesn’t really use them to apply herself to a legitimate career. She had a future in welding with her father, who is a master welder, but threw it away to do something else. She is thinking of the future by training to become an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) Master to walk on the Moon but she gets in her own way.
Jazz is also very flawed in that regard, with not a whole lot of insight into her own psychology and why she does what she does. Jazz has the most character development from the beginning of the novel all the way through to the end, as she also has the furthest to go. Reading about how she matures and changes over the course of the novel makes her a fully fleshed out character that was one of the highlights for me.
There are plenty of other characters here that Jazz knows or is friends with. There is Dale, an EVA Master who is her former best friend before something came between them. There’s Jazz’s nemesis, Rudy the constable of Artemis, who’s convinced Jazz is doing something illegal (and she is!) but he can’t find any proof of it. Jazz’s father is also a strong and wise character whose approval or lack thereof of Jazz comes through along with the strong love he has for her.
Finally, there is Kelvin, her friend on Earth whom she has emailed often since both of them were nine years old. As I read their ongoing correspondence over the course of the novel from the time when Jazz was nine up until the present day, I enjoyed their developing friendship and the insights I had in watching Jazz evolve from then until now. It demonstrated some additional character development for Jazz and that was welcomed. These emails also developed Kelvin’s character as well, as I learned about his difficult predicament on Earth and his aspirations for the future.
And then there’s Svoboda, a microelectronics expert who helps her out with custom gadgets that help with her illicit activities. He gets some of the funniest lines and his sub-plot about Jazz testing an invention of his made me laugh many times over. All of these characters and more are interesting to read about, given some depth beyond their roles in the plot and help populate the novel with colorful individuals.
Each of these characters plays a role but the role of Artemis itself is an important character as well. While not necessarily a person, Artemis has a lot of personality and history since its inception, creation, and development on the Moon. The five habitats, the different domes, and industries that work within the society of Artemis and how they all interact with one another to create a melting pot of different cultures and values that are all given an appropriate spotlight here. Interspersed in-between the plot are tidbits about different aspects of this society. We also see how EVA Masters are revered and we also learn about the economy and the money that funds it. As Jazz is part of the lower-class of society in the structure of Artemis, we see an insider’s perspective between the haves in the dome devoted to the higher class and her dome filled with the have-nots.
Given Jazz’s predilection for smuggling, we also learn about law enforcement in Artemis and how it doesn’t need a whole of regulating, as Rudy is the only constable that it needs. It’s a fully built world that in some ways gets more characterization than some of the individuals that we meet in this novel.
I was particularly impressed with the architect and leader of Artemis, Administrator Ngugi, and how she was able to get this enterprise funded and built. Her adroit politics and her position as leader play a more important role in the novel than you would initially suspect.
The question you’re probably asking as you read this review is how well this novel compares to “The Martian”, the author’s breakout bestseller. The answer is that it compares well. They both have some things in common but “Artemis” is its own entity and their relationship is more like distant cousins than siblings. They both have smartass characters who creatively cuss, are very intelligent people who know their science and use their brains to get them out of precarious situations. They’re also both likable people whom you root for them to succeed in their respective dilemmas. Their situations both feature life and death stakes, though for “Artemis” this is a key feature in the latter two-thirds of the novel. They also take place in the near future, with a realistic and plausible setting not far outside of what is currently known scientifically.
They also both feature science as a strong component of the storytelling and play an integral part of the plot over the course of the novel. In fact, the science here is well integrated into the novel because it’s told to the reader directly from point of view of Jazz, our protagonist. As a lifelong resident of Artemis, she tells us all about life in the city, how residents have to survive, the dangers of living in an airless vacuum with reduced gravity in comparison to Earth and how the city uses tourism as a major part of its economy.
You couldn’t tell this kind of story without the science, as it explains how everything on the Moon works and how it becomes a character of its own inside of the story itself. Lurking in the background, it’s brought to the forefront when it needs to and has a supremely important role to play in all aspects of the story, especially by the final third of the novel. If you took away the science, this story doesn’t hold as much weight, the stakes wouldn’t feel as big and it would just collapse in on itself with no spine to it.
There are times where the science does slow the story down somewhat, as Jazz pauses to explain how things work and what would happen if she makes a bad decision (which she does and readily admits to) and the consequences if she screws up. Not just for her but for others living in the other habitats as well. I knew a little too much about welding by the time I was done reading the book but all the details were presented in a digestible and clear way. I was able to understand what was going on with the science, the actions, and reactions and why things were done in a certain way. For instance, the airlocks into and out of the habitats were detailed and explained how they worked. This level of scientific explanation was welcomed and well-integrated into the story, enhancing the action most of the time instead of detracting from it.
It also takes a while for the story to get going. While I enjoyed the world-building going on here, the introduction of characters and situations, it does take a while for the main plot to get moving. Probably about one-third of the way into the novel, it starts speeding up and gets a whole lot more interesting with more action than before. From there on in, it gets more complicated and we begin to see the larger conspiracy at work behind the scenes of Artemis. But the situations laid out in the first third are laying the foundation for the rest of the novel and put in motion many characters and key points of the plot.
I would also disagree with calling this a heist novel, as it describes itself on the book jacket. Only the final third or so of the story definitely meets the “heist novel” description and has an “Ocean’s Eleven” feel to it. It brings together all the key characters with different skills to do this one big job that will not only help Jazz but Artemis itself. This is the uniting factor, their friendship with Jazz and their shared love of Artemis here on the Moon. This nationalistic pride on display here and the implementation of the finale is where the author shines the most. It’s where all the different complicated threads are woven together to make for a spine-tingling finale filled with tension as each step of the plan is executed. I wondered whether things were going to go according to plan and if they didn’t, would this motley crew be able to recover in time to prevent disaster from happening.
The novel includes maps of the Moon and the placement of the different habitats, locations, and structures from the novel. This gave me a better idea of how Jazz travels to various locations, the distance between them and adds a visual component to the many different aspects of Artemis.
Overall, the novel has a lot of different and pleasing world-building elements to it, with a conspiracy plot that has some refreshing twists. Add in the interesting locale and all of the flawed but appealing characters and you get a novel that doesn’t quite measure up to “The Martian” but is still a worthy reading experience on its own.
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