Andy Weir follows his best-selling debut novel The Martian with Artemis, a crime-filled moon adventure. In Artemis, one woman tries to escape her lower class economic position through petty smuggling until she’s offered the chance to change everything by committing one big crime. In this new novel, Weir doubles down on his strengths, which opens the door to new flaws.
Weir has a knack for clever and intriguing first person narrative. His protagonist is once again snarky and foul-mouthed. However, unlike Mark Watney in The Martian, Jazz’s motives for telling this story are unclear. A first-person perspective doesn’t always necessitate a reason for being told, but Weir’s narrator confusingly passes judgement on the readers. “Get your mind out of the gutter” or “What? I like puppies,” the narrator, Jazz, says to no one in particular. Weir gave himself an easy out in The Martian by having Watney recording mission logs. Watney speaking to someone makes sense. Here, that sort of direct address is so sporadic and unfocussed it becomes distracting.
More problematic, though, are the constant comments by other characters about Jazz’s sex life. The city of Artemis is a small town on the moon. Weir clearly establishes of the idea that around any corner is someone familiar. This novel isn’t about interpersonal relationships and the neighborhood mentality on the moon, though. It’s about crime. It’s about Jazz, the 26-year-old woman born in Saudi Arabia who has lived on the moon since she was a child. Jazz is a low level smuggler who gets baited into committing a much larger crime, a crime that unwittingly put the lives of everyone in Artemis at risk. Still, somehow the first conversation she has with almost every person in the book seems to land on the topic of her sex life. It’s odd and feels awkward every time it comes up. If he’s attempting to make a commentary, his point doesn’t land.
This novel, much like his debut, thrives on the danger of living in space. What bogged him down in The Martian was all of the intricate scientific explanation he used to ground the novel in a tangible reality. Here, he backs off the explanation and focuses on the experience. There are still a few occurrences of obsessively specific scientific details where eyes may glaze over, but for the most part he’s content to let Jazz say it doesn’t matter how it works, it just does. He is also helped by his choice to remove the burden of exposition from his characters’ conversations. Instead, most chapters end with expository pen pal letters between Jazz and a friend on Earth.
Despite those occasional snags, Weir’s novel is genuinely fun and unpredictable. He continually puts morality on a sliding scale forcing his audience to decide if doing the wrong thing can ever be right. Weir also delves into economics, theorizing what those in power are willing to do to control the status quo. There are a few instances where Weir’s dedication to the deep themes and the intricate plot lead to Jazz coming across as a stereotypical 20-something plucked from a television show. The story is still gripping thanks to the environment and circumstances Weir provides.
Andy Weir’s new novel isn’t easy to walk away from, nor does it leave the mind quickly. It lingers, positing not only “what will happen next” but also “should it happen at all?” He takes the trials and tribulations of life on Earth and ratchets them up by putting them in the terrifying vacuum of space. Weir once again creates a world almost too specific to be fiction.