This is a Guest Post by Rob Whiteley.
So Andy Weir’s new book, Artemis, stoked my interest from the moment I saw the cover, and read the dedication. The novel is dedicated to all of the Apollo Command Module pilots, i.e. the 7 Apollo astronauts whose job it was to not walk on the Moon. They were impressive people, who didn’t get the glory of the Armstrongs and Aldrins. They just flew the ships that got everybody home. But I digress.
Artemis is a story about a caper involving working-class citizens of the first Lunar city. Jazz Bashara is the main protagonist of the story, which is told from her first person perspective. Her voice is interesting. She is Saudi by birth, but is a firm rejectionist of pretty much any religious or cultural tropes from her homeland. She is an accomplished smart-ass, and a first-rate smuggler, but is a down-and-outer who seems to have relationship issues.
She introduces the reader to her Lunar home in the following way:
“I live in Conrad Down 15, a grungy area fifteen floors underground in Conrad Bubble. If my neighborhood were wine, connoisseurs would describe it as “shitty, with overtones of failure and poor life decisions.”
Her not-so-veiled commentary on the men in her world is summed up nicely in this gem:
“My cart is a pain in the ass to control, but it’s good at carrying heavy things. So I decided it was male. I named him Trigger.”
Needless to say, these 2 comments are closely related, as her poor life decisions seem to mostly relate to men.
I liked Jazz’s dialogue. I found it to be reminiscent of the novels of Nelson Demille, whose main characters always seems to have a snappy comeback. Jazz may be down on her luck, and may make poor choices, but she is never at a loss for words. Her exchange with the Constable of Artemis, who is literally a former Canadian Mountie, is classic:
“You know why I’m here, right?”
“No idea,” I said. “Is it something Canadian? Do you need to apologize for shit that isn’t your fault? Or hold a door open for someone twenty meters away?”
The first-person approach to story-telling is a great opportunity to let Jazz’s personality comes through loud and clear. The reader hears in Jazz’s voice about her caffeine preference (she’s a committed tea drinker, highly suspect), that she’s a late riser (one sympathizes), and that synthetic reconstituted scotch tastes like ass (again, a sensible view). I felt like a 3rd person perspective wouldn’t have captured her personality as well. For example, the following comment makes more sense in the first-person:
“The city shined in the sunlight like a bunch of metallic boobs. What? I’m not a poet. They look like boobs.”
Weir’s descriptions of the city of Artemis, and the technical details behind it, make the city a character in and of itself. Weir has clearly thought about how to actually build a city on the Moon, and his scientific and technical details are spot on. Whether it’s his description of heat rejection from a nuclear reactor, anorthite processing, how an airlock works, or how to weld in a vacuum using acetylene, he has obviously put a tremendous amount of research into the book. While the genre here is “Sci-Fi”, Weir clearly leans toward the “Sci”, and he makes it work.
It’s in the arenas of social science and economics where I saw Weir riffing a bit on Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In Weir’s story, the economic basis for the city of Artemis is the energy content and cost of landing a payload on the Moon. The currency of Artemis is “Soft-landed grams”, or “slugs”. These represent the value implied by landing 1 gram of mass on the Moon. The caper that drives the story is about a power play for control of lunar resources, and the future of economic development in the city.
In Heinlein’s story, the economics of Luna are driven by the export of food products to an over-crowded and hungry Earth. The revolution recounted by the protagonist, again in the first person, is a reaction to the impending economic collapse of the Lunar colony due to over-exploitation of lunar resources. Both stories are told from the first person, and both stories main plots revolve around economic themes. Both utilize protagonists that are not Americans, even though both authors are American. Both stories also have strong undercurrents of libertarian / free market thinking.
Comparisons to Heinlein’s work aside, I would rate Artemis highly, and tell people to go read this book if they are readers of Sci-Fi. On the Kitt scale, it goes somewhere between “fan” and “worth reading”.