In 2014, Andy Weir’s self-published book The Martian was picked up by a major publisher. Just a year and a half later, it was a major motion picture starring Matt Damon that went on to gross over $630 million. Given that history, it’s not too surprising that Fox bought the film rights to Weir’s newest book, Artemis, months before it was even published.
The new novel tells the story of Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a 20-something petty criminal born and raised in Artemis, Earth’s first lunar colony. She normally tries to fly under the radar, but when she’s offered a high-stakes job with a payout too good to pass up, she gets pulled into a series of unexpected events that involve industrial sabotage, mafia hitmen, and science-based hijinks.
As he did with The Martian—which, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve seen (and enjoyed) but not read—Weir infuses Artemis with plenty of actual science. That feature was a selling point with the previous book, and you can tell he really geeks out on the details. The result is a fictional world that feels fleshed out, solid, and plausible; there’s no hand waving of science-fantasy elements here. However, there are times when the scientific descriptions do bog down the story a little, particularly early in the novel, when they’re often wedged into narration on Jazz going about her daily life and walking through the colony’s structures. The detailed explanations fit in naturally throughout The Martian, whose main character is an astronaut-scientist in a survival situation, and they do fit well in Artemis in the scenes where physics and chemistry are being used to solve problems or are otherwise actively relevant to the plot at issue. But those early chapters involve just a few too many detours into things like the finer workings of the lunar base’s construction, to the point that they distract a bit from the story and sometimes made it hard to get engaged in the book. That said, it’s far from a major flaw, and I’m also sure that more devoted science geeks than me will get more out of it than I did.
In between the narrative chapters we get letters between Jazz and a buddy back on Earth—a pen pal she was paired up with as part of an elementary-school assignment, who over the years turned into a friend and smuggling accomplice. The notes start with those school-age exchanges and continue up through the present, which makes them an effective way to populate the details of Jazz’s backstory without constantly interrupting the narrative. The friend also becomes tangentially involved in the unfolding events of the novel, so it all knits together nicely as the book progresses.
Additionally, what we learn about Jazz’s childhood and teenage years in those messages feeds realistically into who she is as an adult. She is, on the whole, a fairly well-rounded and interesting character who makes real mistakes with real consequences and has believably human motivations. However, being that she’s the protagonist, she’s also inevitably exceptional in certain ways. She’s a science and engineering prodigy—teaching herself advanced concepts and constantly being told that she’s wasting her talents—and her attractiveness is pointed out to her and to the reader on multiple occasions. (At one point, her awkward nerdy friend walks in when she’s sitting around without any pants on and stammers on about her breasts like an anime character with a nosebleed. “I was pretty sexy, I have to admit,” Jazz tells us.) There are also moments of childishness in between her turns as foul-mouthed smuggler and genius saboteur; the 26-year-old “giggles like a little girl,” gives inanimate devices cutesy names, and occasionally uses words like “kabloominess.” At one point she stops in the middle of an escape sequence to yell at a former friend for stealing her high-school boyfriend. Given her past, it does make sense that she’d be a bit immature for her age—again, the backstory we gradually learn about does feel like it genuinely shapes her character. But some of these moments felt a bit too infantilizing; combined with the comments on her hotness, they made me very aware that Weir is a (white) male protagonist writing a (nonwhite) female protagonist. Most of the time, though, Jazz does feel like a real person and someone I’d be interested to see portrayed on the big screen.
I can see why Artemis was picked up for movie rights. Aside from Weir’s proven track record, the book in many ways reads like a popcorn sci-fi flick (with an emphasis on the “sci,” of course). Once the plot picks up steam, it’s a lively read that combines some of The Martian’s space-science themes with elements of political intrigue, heist plotting, a dash of neo-noir, and, unexpectedly, the economic implications of lunar colonization—all with some comedy throughout. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and considers some interesting points of daily life away from Earth I haven’t seen covered in other near-future fiction. If you liked The Martian, there’s a good chance you’ll like the followup.