Ebury/Del Rey | 2017 (14 November) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
Life isn’t so easy for the poor in Artemis – the Moon’s one city. While the rich inhabitants and the excited tourists enjoy a pleasuredome of delights and privilege (complete with organised tours of the Apollo XI landing site), those who serve them in some way are lucky if they live in a room large enough to stand up in. Jazz Bashara, who’s lived on the Moon since she was six years old, doesn’t. She scrapes a living as a porter, delivering items from the cargo and tourist ships that regularly arrive from Earth, and supplementing that income with a good old-fashioned activity – smuggling.
Jazz has her dreams and to fulfil them she needs lots of ‘slugs’ (or money). One day one of her reliable wealthy clients offers Jazz the job of a lifetime. It goes beyond smuggling. It could get her into serious trouble, perhaps even deported to her family’s original home in Saudi Arabia, but the money sings. Jazz can’t say no. It’s not long before she wishes she had.
Artemis is the highly anticipated second novel by Andy Weir, author of The Martian. The wonderful and original The Martian is a very hard act to follow and the author has his work cut out. In some ways he pulls it off – the world building is fantastic. Just as he had made us experience the hostile surface of Mars, now we see what life could be like perched on the Moon’s surface in enclosed bubble domed cities, underground, in spacesuits, in tunnels and in its bars. It’s a claustrophobic and dangerous world (Moon dust can slowly kill) but it’s also exotic and beautiful – and it has a strong pride in its lunar history.
It isn’t just the landscape and environment that are visualised so powerfully – the society is also made real, complex and intimidating. Politics, economics, greed, science, innovation and inequality all play their part in shaping life in Artemis. While there isn’t much violence, there’s a sense that it may only be a matter of time. Once the shine has worn off.
Jazz is surrounded by a host of interesting characters, all with their own conflicts, hidden feelings and motivations, and many, but by no means all, are drawn towards Jazz. I really enjoyed some of these characters and if anything I wished we learned more about them. Jazz, however, I didn’t get along with so well. She’s supposed to be 26 years old but you wouldn’t know it unless you were told. She appeared to me as a stereotype of how a man might think a teenage girl might think and behave. This sounds harsh but I was really disappointed in her character and in the way she was written. Fortunately, the others around her gave me more to like.
My biggest issue with Artemis, though, is with its dialogue. At times I literally cringed at the juvenile squirmy jokes which are constant. The long-running joke about testing a condom wears thin (in a manner of speaking) as well. There’s a lot of talk about sex while nobody actually has it. Perhaps it’s to remind us that these young people are adults instead of the teens you’d assume they are. None of this dialogue seems realistic for a 26-year-old woman. A few characters – such as the police officer Rudy – speak with maturity but when they do they sound like parents chiding a child.
It’s difficult not to compare Artemis with The Martian, especially as I loved The Martian so much. As I say, there are aspects of Artemis that I really enjoyed, particularly with the visualisation of its setting and the composition of its society and rules, but, as a whole, I was disappointed by Artemis not least because I had such high and possibly unrealistic hopes. Those hopes, though, will carry me on to his next novel. I must say, though, that the cover of Artemis is spectacular!