Artemis by Andy Weir (book review).

Unlike half of the world’s population, I haven’t read Andy Weir’s debut novel ‘The Martian’, but in common with the other half of the population I did watch the film and rather enjoyed it. Andy Weir returns to the world of populist hard SF with ‘Artemis’ which takes us this time to the Moon, location of the eponymous lunar city. Jazz Bashara lives on the lowest rungs of this small society, eking out a living as a porter with a spot of smuggling on the side. It’s a rigidly stratified society where various industries and trades are controlled by guilds or groups of immigrants, but it seems a much less threatening and authoritarian set up than the moon of ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ or many other near-future hard-SF stories.

The story is narrated in the first person by Jazz, in an informal tone with the same irreverent humour that featured in ‘The Martian’. It’s a much less lonely tale this time and, although there is tension and drama, it’s more of a caper and reminded me in some parts of heist movies like ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. Jazz interacts with numerous inhabitants of Artemis and, as she’s grown up there and there are only two thousand inhabitants in total, she knows many of them by name and has had various dealings with many of them in the past.

Despite this somewhat limited setting, I sometimes got the impression that it was a much larger city when Jazz was in public areas or bars where there were anonymous crowds in the background. It seemed to me that having grown up there, she would know or be recognised by a much larger proportion of people than was apparent in the book. Especially as she works as a porter making deliveries all over the city and is known to be the only reliable smuggling route for bringing in restricted items from Earth. Jazz keeps bumping in to people she knows at inconvenient times while attempting to sneak around and get up to no good. Having lived 24 hours a day for nearly 20 years amongst 2000 people, I would think it would be impossible to go anywhere incognito. Anyway, for the most part, I could ignore that and enjoy the increasingly complex and risky enterprise that Jazz finds herself in once she agrees to carry out a big, dangerous job in exchange for a huge pay-out that will make her smuggling operation pale into insignificance.

The technology and layout of the city is well described and Andy Weir has obviously given much thought to how such a settlement would work in practice. He has also given quite a lot of detail to health and safety and risk assessments, which some may find tedious but which I though gave it a much better air of realism than many space stations and moonbases that writers have conjured up for the same of adventure without any thought to the practicalities of living in a potentially deadly location. So there’s a lot about welding safely, pressure sensors and safety interlocks, which satisfied my inner health and safety consciousness from my time working on hazardous waste incinerators. I get rather frustrated when complex and expensive equipment easily breaks down and blows up in films for the convenience of the plot.

I’m still not entirely convinced that ventures into space will ever be economically feasible but, again, Andy Weir has given a lot of thought to this and provides a solid-sounding economic model which underpins many of the plot elements. The city also contains a lot of racial diversity, though the practical effects of this is somewhat lost by the majority of characters with any significant role in the book talking and acting like standard Western ciphers rather than having any overt cultural identity. I guess the fun, adventure and excitement that Andy Weir was aiming for, along with some plausible scientific and technical principles, don’t allow for thorough accuracy in every aspect.

‘Artemis’ is a quick and fun read with plenty of twists and turns to add to the suspense. Apparently, the film rights have already been sold so I’m sure we’ll be seeing a big screen version soon, too.

Gareth D Jones

December 2017

(pub: Del Rey. 320 page hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-09195-694-3)

check out website: www.penguin.co.uk

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