– By J.W. Fox –
Andy Weir is one of my favorite new writers. The self-published author not only explains technical details concisely and effectively, his first two novels are also showing he is a capable storyteller. The Martian was a fantastic novel that was turned into an excellent movie. Artemis is slightly different in that it is intended for the young adult audience. Although enjoyable, it does not quite measure up to his debut work.
The protagonist, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, lives on the moon. The twenty-something daughter of a Saudi welder works as a porter while doing some smuggling on the side. She doesn’t respect authority much but does live by her own honor code, one her clients appreciate. One of her clients, a wealthy business tycoon, offers her a huge job. It is one so rich she is unable to refuse. It is risky, dangerous, and has the potential to change her home world forever.
As you can tell, Artemis is a novel about a heist. As with most heist stories, things go awry. Jazz finds herself caught in the middle of a larger scheme involving corporate greed, organized crime, and political corruption. Jazz must use her skills and get help from a group of loyal friends to protect her world and stop the catastrophic events she inadvertently put in motion.
Weir’s second novel possesses some of the intricate world-building of The Martian, including some detailed explanations of the Lunar habitats and how a Moon city could thrive in the near future. Like his Mark Watney narrator, Jazz tries to explain the technology in a way a layman could understand. This is one of the strongest elements of Weir’s writing: hard science fiction for the common man! Artemis does not have the same focus on problem-solving or engineering. Instead, it spends a greater amount of time developing its protagonist Jazz. Weir challenged himself in attempting to write from the perspective of a young Saudi woman and succeeded in building a strong, believable character.
Jazz is young, attractive, snarky, and definitely a tomboy. A nerd’s fantasy. She has Buffy’s wit and Hermione’s intelligence. Although she is supposed to be in her twenties, she has the demeanor of a teenager. At first, her immaturity and peculiar nature were appealing but as the plot turned serious, she felt somewhat out of place.
The bigger issue with Jazz was that she was a Mary Sue. Anytime a character has that special blend of amazing physical and intellectual gifts, my Mary Sue alarm goes off. Her humble-brags about the burden of being beautiful did not over well. In my experience, tomboys tend to downplay their physical attractiveness. However, when you throw in her heist-planning and dope metalworking skills, you have a character that has a few too many gifts. Another feature of Mary Sues is their tremendous popularity among other characters, which applies to Jazz as well. Her circle of friends and associates obviously adore her, sometimes for good reason, other times…
Another potential issue is how Jazz’s sex appeal is utilized to titillate readers. The plot manages to get her in various stages of undress, including two scenes where she must impersonate a prostitute. Nothing too blatant or gratuitous but it definitely felt like Jazz was flirting with the readers.
Young adult readers do not seem to have issues with Mary Sue’s, if book sales and box office receipts are any indication. In particular, male readers probably won’t mind being a little titillated while reading a compelling sci-fi action novel. These issues are more likely to bother older readers, especially those who really loved The Martian. The contrast between Watney and Jazz is impressive in terms of demonstrating Weir’s character-building range but they appeal to slightly different audiences. That may explain the lower average rating Artemis receives on Goodreads in comparison to Weir’s first work. Some probably did not expect nor appreciate the change.
The plot was gripping, well-paced, and delivered a great ending. There were a few minor holes but nothing that would shatter the suspension of disbelief. The heist, the consequences, and the final reveal were all compelling and deliver on the book’s promise. I would’ve liked a more nuanced antagonist but younger readers probably do not mind. Generally, villains in YA science fiction are pretty one-dimensional, evil mustache-twisting bad guys constantly rubbing their hands together with a devilish laugh. The antagonist of Artemis is not quite that simple, but not complex either.
The world-building is strong. Weir’s Artemis comes to life, and truly felt like a real city. One challenge for futurists is determining how a city on the Moon could grow and prosper given the limited resources and the problems with living in low-g. Weir addresses these challenges effectively and gives the Lunar city a bit of character in the process.
Overall, Artemis is a strong YA novel that should appeal to a large number of that demographic. However, older readers may not find Jazz as appealing, nor the naive political intrigue and social commentary. There is enough technical descriptions for most readers but hard science fiction fans might be a little disappointed it does not have as much as The Martian.
Going forward, this novel tells me Weir is growing as an author and has much greater range than he demonstrated in his debut. To challenge himself with a different protagonist archetype and different format (conventional first-person rather than log entries) demonstrates a desire to grow and evolve as a writer. I cannot wait for his third novel.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.