Book Review - Artemis

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved 'The Martian' and I couldn't wait to get my hands on Weir's second book. The book follows Jazz Bashara, a smuggler with a conscience in the only city on the Moon, Artemis. She's trying to pay off a debt, an ever-elusive goal that appears unreachable given her porter's salary. Her side jobs smuggling in contraband aren't helping either. Just when she gets desperate, an opportunity presents itself that she cannot refuse. Despite being out of her skillset, she hatches a plan that should have worked - but as we all know, the best laid plans and all that. Now, with her life on the line she has to make some uneasy alliances to finish the job and save her city.

The reason 'The Martian' captured so many people's imagination was how believable Weir made the entire experience. Admittedly, Mark Watney was perhaps a little too chipper and cocky, but he had science on his side, plus some luck. We had to suspend our disbelief a fair bit, but on the whole it was a practical exercise in a speculative fiction book.

In 'Artemis', our disbelief is stretched a little too far. It is far-fetched to think that Jazz comes up with a plan and executes it almost perfectly in a couple of days. And then comes up with a second plan in another week's time; heals and is up and about in four days, so that she can get back to life. The timeline is too slim, especially given that she is working outside her skillset.

Much of the scientific mumbo-jumbo went over my head and at times I felt it was overused - it just didn't seem to matter to me, but that may have been my general feelings about the book at that point.

The other problem is the central conceit of the story. Watney was trying to survive; here, Bashara is a mercenary, but the author can't bring himself to write her as such. She attempts to sabotage a company's tech on the behest of a rich client who will pay her well - but when her plan fails, the author doesn't leave it to her fighting to stay alive, but shoehorns in her need to finish the job because there is a possibility of a cartel takeover in the future. It's a flimsy attempt to add some explosive action in the third act and to humanise the protagonist.

Jazz as a character is problematic, throughout. The writer goes out of his way to ensure the reader that though she is of Saudi Arabian origin she is conventionally hot and loves sleeping with guys. This aspect of her personality is brought up several times; the author might as well have slut-shamed her. I honestly don't understand why Weir went down this route when creating Jazz - Watney's sex life was hardly in contention when he was stranded on Mars and we weren't given any details of what he looked like. Additionally, the author didn't go into detail about him getting in and out of his space suit. Jazz is the quintessential protagonist of every male gaze-y film and book - she even dresses up as a prostitute at one point to get information. Pardon me while I roll my eyes.

I found it disappointing given how hard Weir tries to paint the city of Artemis as diverse. We have Saudi Arabian welders, Vietnamese scientists, Norwegian billionaires, a Kenyan mayor, Indians, a disabled girl, an openly gay man, etc, but then you ruin it all by making Jazz a cardboard cut out of a female protagonist. She's super-smart, super-great at everything she does and super-hot; her biggest failing is that she had bad taste in boyfriends when she was a teenager and that led her to a path of ruin. I mean, come on! How utterly cliched could you get?

Aside from Jazz, the other women characters have woefully small roles and none of them are good guys. I don't understand why some of the characters couldn't have been gender-swapped. Bob could have been female or Svoboda could have been female (the romance angle felt like something an editor insisted on including, it didn't feel organic at all, so no problem changing the gender) - the final gang could have been far more diverse than what we got.

I feel like this book could have been amazing, but it lets itself down by trying too hard. I also think Weir writes confined places better than sprawling cities. So much of the book goes into explaining and describing the different bubbles of the city - this is great for world-building, but it doesn't affect the story. And since we're not likely to revisit Artemis, it's a pointless waste of pages that could have gone into building Jazz into a better character and fleshing out a plot that had more substance than action. By the third act, Jazz's unending succession of luck just became silly. At least Weir tried to add credibility to Watney by making him a botanist and an astronaut, hence his ability to science the s*** out of his HAB on Mars. Jazz feels like a super-computer who comes up with all her plans on her own, and only needs a few people to help her execute them. I love that we have a female hero who uses her brains and some brawn, but she doesn't have to be superhuman - at least write in a plot that suits her skillset. If this was a heist, the story would have worked perfectly, but it isn't, and that's where the book just gets unbelievable.

I enjoyed the book, but too often the experience became akin to watching 'Justice League' - a hilarious moment is undone by a low-angle booty shot of Wonder Woman for no other reason than... dudes. Sigh.

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