Andy Weir wrote “Artemis” on the success of “The Martian”. I’ve been meaning to read it for quite some time, but was put off by the overwhelmingly unflattering reviews coming not only from various corners of the Internet (which I could still ignore), but also from fellow readers.
Recently, however, my favourite daughter has started reading a lot of sci-fi, including Weir. Having read ‘Project Hail Mary’ and ‘The Martian’, she requested ‘Artemis’, in paperback of course, as she belongs to the Sniffers species. A book has to smell, right? And Kindle smells like plastic, so it doesn’t count.
So the plan was for her to read “Artemis” first and let me know if it was worth it or not. In the meantime, however, there were year-end exams, then she got down to reading “Discworld”, and as we all know you can spend half your life there, if your diaphragm can stand it; I felt sorry for “Artemis” sitting alone on the shelf, so I took it just for a test, to read the first few paragraphs…
It begins almost like a Hitchcock movie: not with an earthquake, but with action straight away. A girl takes a practical exam to become an EVA operator, which she fails miserably as she damages a very important valve in her suit and starts losing oxygen at such a rate that she is unlikely to make it to the airlock in time.
As we can guess, however, she does make it (at the last moment, of course), so she has a chance to remain in the novel a bit longer, and we can admire Weir’s writing skills once again.
And there is a lot to admire!
In contrast to “The Martian” and “Project Hail Mary”, where the main guy is more or less alone all the time, here it is full of colourful characters. The book is in fact an excellently made crime comedy in which – how else – a solid portion of education about the Moon could not be missing. Some time ago, mankind managed to put up a few huge domes, and under them – to create a whole city (called Artemis – hence the title), with economy, tourism, welders, thieves, public houses, hotels, cinemas, pubs, settlements for residents and what not. The protagonist is a 26-year-old girl named Jazz Bashara, with Arabic origins, born on Earth (the Moon, due to its low gravity, makes it impossible to deliver a healthy human pregnancy), but she arrived on our satellite at the age of six (in the days before they raised the age limit to 11) and is a full-fledged resident of the lunar city. She works as a courier, and on the side she makes a living as a smuggler, because couriers in Artemis are paid rather poorly, and Jazz has a plan to save more money and buy herself a flat in a better district.
But for now she is a courier during working hours and a smuggler outside them. One day, one of the local goons offers her a quick buck for sabotaging a competitor’s machinery – a tricky and dangerous operation, but also an opportunity to make the kind of money she’d normally have to put aside for several years, perhaps a dozen. Jazz falls for it… and I will stop here, because I would have to present the entire book, which is not the point.
The novel is full of humour, so typical of Weir. Jazz has a great distance to herself, she is also very determined and – importantly – although as a smuggler she works on the “dark” side, she has her own moral code which she strictly follows.
As in any good story, there is also a mad Ukrainian scientist, a bunch of mafia muscle, a friendly policeman, a mysterious technology, some gunk (what’s gunk? grab a book and find out!) and a complicated chain of events whose finale is worthy of a statuette. I devoured the book in two afternoons and the only thing I found to be a downside was the slightly too candy-coated ending. Everything else – a strong 9.5/10!
(That’s not a ten factorial by the way, just a perfectly normal ten with an independent, non-factorialist exclamation mark)