Artemis by Andy Weir

Reviewed by Annabel
Those who read Weir’s debut novel, The Martian (which Dan reviewed for us here), tended to fall into two camps. As SF novels go, it was funny, cheesy and geeky, and despite having one helluva plot, didn’t take itself too seriously, which made it a Marmite book for many. I was one who loved it. Since then, I’ve read Becky Chambers’ two optimistic and equally light-hearted SF novels (read my review of A Close and Common Orbit here) and I am glad that some authors are putting the fun back into Science Fiction.

This brings me to Weir’s second novel, Artemis, which, on a first glance, appears to have more in common with Becky Chambers than The Martian – but Weir does give us a similarly wise-cracking protagonist, and another geeky technical theme which he explores in detail. If The Martian was about growing potatoes in space, Artemis is about welding! But more of that later.

Artemis is a lunar colony of around 2000, a mix of permanent residents plus wealthy tourists, built 40km from the Apollo 11 landing site on the Sea of Tranquillity. Five interconnected domes top the mostly underground city. Artemis runs on Nairobi time – the colony had been founded by Kenya, which, situated on the equator offers easy ascent into orbit and didn’t ask too many questions, making it the economic hub of the space industry. Weir gradually feeds us the details of how the colony works economically and technically: how it makes enough (even too much) oxygen, what they do with the carbon dioxide, how they generate power and smelt the aluminium-rich moon rocks. His colony-building seems well thought out and feels very plausible.

Now it’s time to meet Jazz Bashara. She’s 26, of Arabic descent, and emigrated to the Artemis lunar colony with her father (a welder) when she was just six. She makes a living by being a delivery girl, a porter, and she lives in what she calls her ‘coffin’, like the Japanese capsule hotels, in one of the cheapest, most underground areas of the city, having fallen out with her father.

As the novel opens, Jazz is desperately trying to reach the airlock; she could die, as a line has ruptured on her secondhand EVA suit. She’s actually in the middle of taking her EVA test to join the EVA Guild, but Bob will fail her for not checking her suit properly. If only she could get in the Guild, she would earn seven times as much taking tourists out on the moon’s surface.

She survives – just – but it takes a lot to knock Jazz Bashara. Once recovered, she’s off to the port to collect a contraband package. Well, a girl’s got to supplement her meagre income somehow. The package is cigars for Trond Landvik, ‘one of the richest richfucks in town.’ A man so rich, he has a special smoking room on the moon, where the pure oxygen atmosphere makes anything hot a real fire hazard. Trond has a visitor, a man from Hong Kong, with a mysterious box which Jazz can’t see into. Later, Trond, recognising that Jazz is a very resourceful and clever young woman who is wasted on being a mere porter, contacts her with a proposition for which he’ll pay her a million slugs (the barter currency of the colony). Trond wants her to disable the Sanchez corporation’s moon-rock harvesters, which will bring the smelting industry to a halt, and thus oxygen production – and Trond will leap in to save the colony.

…I smelled bullshit in the air. Trond had been squirrely and evasive about his reasons for getting into aluminium. But it was my ass on the line if something went wrong, not his. And if I got caught I’d get exiled to Earth. I probably couldn’t stand up on Earth, let alone live there. I’d been in lunar gravity since I was six.
No, I was a smuggler, not a saboteur.

But money talks, and she takes the job. There is much planning to do – from working out a way to get outside the domes onto the surface without an EVA licence, to getting into the machines to disable them. It will require guile, friends with the right electronics equipment and skills, and lots of perilous cutting and welding in difficult atmospheres.

I won’t spoil the adventure by telling you more, but it will be very tricky indeed. As you might imagine, with only two thousand inhabitants, it’s difficult to hide in Artemis – and Jazz will find herself hunted down by more than just the lunar authorities – someone wants her dead.

It’s hard not to like Jazz. She is smart, sassy and tenacious, a bit of a ladette who parties hard when she can afford it. But she is also a good friend, has a heart of gold and is ultimately a loyal daughter. If Weir writes more adventures for her, I can see her becoming more Ripleyesque as she matures.

Weir has delivered a heist thriller that is full of action, but he does pause now and then to give us a breather in the form of the pen-pal email correspondence between Jazz and Kelvin, who lives on Earth in Kenya. This starts as a school assignment when Jazz and Kelvin are nine and although they never meet, their friendship develops, especially once Kelvin helps with the Earth-end of her smuggling exploits. In the beginning, Weir uses their letters to tell us more about how the colony works and some of its history, building a lot of backstory and information into the text.

By the time we get to the climax of Artemis, I’d had enough of welding, but that is a small quibble when you consider the amount of politics, economics. science, technology and sheer EVA adventure Weir manages to cram into this fast-paced novel. This adventure was full of thrills and spills, told with humour and confident world-building. What fun!

Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books, and would love to become a space tourist, but could never afford it without winning the Euromillions megajackpot.

Andy Weir, Artemis (Del Rey, 2017) ISBN: 978-0091956943, hardback, 320 pages.

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