Fiction Reviews


Artemis

(2017) Andy Weir, Del Rey, £12.99, hrdbk, 305pp, ISBN 978-0-091-95694-3

 

The Moon is beginning to be developed and now sports its first significant settlement billed as its first city, Artemis, population 2,000: mostly tourists, some criminals.

Jazz Bashara is a disappointment to her father who is also on the Moon working as a much respected welder in his own construction shop. Jazz who, to all who knew her, showed so much potential, is a lowly porter barely getting by ferrying goods on her electric cart from one part of Artemis to another. She gets by living in a small capsule bunk and mainly eating the flavoured gunk (algae) grown in the settlement. To get on she needs to become qualified in EVA (extra vehicular activity). For this she has to have a decent spacesuit and not the second hand old one she owns, but new suits cost and so Jazz – with her connections on Earth and her position as a porter – undertakes a bit of smuggling of low-level contraband: tourists, let alone the locals, hanker for tastes of Earth to raise the money.

Jazz's old suit is what lets her down at the novel's beginning. On an EVA exercise to join the Guild, her suit develops fault and the must race back to the nearest Artemis airlock. She barely makes it and fails the test. Her future seems fated to remain a lowly porter. So when the local king-pin, wide boy, businessman offers her a fortune to sabotage some remote, unmanned piece of equipment she decides to take her chance: it may be the only opportunity she gets…

Andy Weir is, of course, known for the publishing-sensation novel The Martian (which the SF² Concatenation team nominated as one of the top SF novels of 2014) that went on to sell to date five million copies in English (goodness knows how many in other languages) and which in turn became a film (trailer here) that won a Hugo Award for 'Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form.  So the question all fans familiar with these will undoubtedly be asking is whether Weir's second novel, Artemis, maintains the astronomically high standard set by The Martian?  Here the news is a decided 'yes'! Yaay.

Yet though, make no mistake, there are substantive differences.  Unlike The Martian, Artemis is not a disaster novel (though we do get finally a disaster along the way), and is not a lone person's fight for survival: we have a whole city and much kit to back-up any goings-on.

Also, unlike The Martian whose set-up is self-evident – an explorative expedition to Mars – with Artemis we have to learn about the history of the Lunar settlement: there is much world-building which is done largely deftly.

Instead Artemis is a thriller in which politics and crime explosively come together on the Moon with a young, likeable rouge at its epicentre set against the dynamics of Earth-Moon geopolitics, and the nuts and bolts of much of the technology that keeps it all together and everyone alive. Yet there is little word wastage in Artemis' 300 or so pages: Weir does not do bloat (though we knew that already).

Yet, like The Martian, Artemis is very much a space-centred novel with a clear sense-of-place: space is no mere backdrop but is as integral to the story (importantly in multiple ways) as any of the principal characters.  Also, likeThe Martian, the novel's pace almost races from the decompressing opening through to an Earth-changing (if not Lunar settlement preserving) conclusion.  To say much more could constitute a spoiler. Again, as with The Martian, Artemis is packed with solid science and technology with much to satisfy the science-literate reader and wow the more arty types who are into popular science (those who are not will run away).  Suffice to say that, as with The Martian, Artemis is a solid hard SF novel rooted in mundane science fiction and fans of the former novel will not be disappointed with the latter.

20th Century Fox, who did The Martian film, have apparently optioned the rights to Artemis. Fortunately The Martian film did well and so they may well give Artemis a decent budget. They will need to, for while The Martian's exotic settings (hence sets) were just a small Martian dome for a handful of people and a couple of spaceships, any Artemis film will need to convey a multi-domed city capable of supporting thousands, a recreation of the Apollo 11 landing site (yes, that is one of the tourist attractions) and a range of Lunar ground craft from small pressurised vehicles for a half-dozen crew, to giant industrial regolith harvesters. And then there is the question as to how the film-makers will convey one-sixth gravity? The EVA bits, in which the characters are weighed down by space suits, will be the least of the special effects problems: any film will have to convincingly conveying one-sixth G inside the city that will be tricky if the film-makers are to do the novel any justice.

Back to the novel and where do we go from here? The one problem there is, is not ours: it's Andy's.  It is clear with his second novel that he can keep up the scientifically literate, adventure standard he established with The Martian. So the question fans will now be asking is where on Earth will he take us next? (OK, space for sure, but space is a BIG place with plenty of opportunity for much to go on…)  Needless to say I am looking forward to his third offering.

Jonathan Cowie

 


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