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Artemis by Andy Weir

Published by Crown on November 14, 2017

Artemis follows the same formula Andy Weir used in The Martian. Protagonist encounters a problem. Protagonist uses science to solve it. Protagonist encounters another problem. Protagonist uses science to solve it. The solution unwittingly creates an even bigger problem. Protagonist uses science to solve it. And so on. The formula worked in The Martian and, while the science lectures are a bit overdone in Artemis, the story is lively enough to be entertaining.

Jazz Bashara is a Saudi citizen, but she grew up in Artemis, a domed complex on the moon. She lives in low-rent housing deep underground. Jazz would like to get a job leading tourists on excursions outside the domes, but she can’t afford a decent spacesuit. In the meantime, she works as a porter, although she supplements her income with a bit of smuggling. Soon she has a chance to earn a larger supplement by engaging in a bit of industrial sabotage. That leads to troublesome encounters with a crime syndicate that, by the novel’s end, have resolved just a bit too neatly. But the point of the story is to solve problems with science, so the human issues will be secondary to many readers.

Science and engineering geeks will probably like Artemis because of the formula: identify the a problem, explain the science that underlies the problem, and then dream up a solution that is consistent with the science. I thought the explanations were generally interesting, even though I’m not a science or engineering geek (my own geekishness lies in different areas). If it bothers you to read that sort of thing, you probably don’t like science fiction, at least the kind of science fiction that makes science a plot element. Some science fiction writers overdo the technincal aspects of science, as if they expect their readers to have a doctorate in astrophysics, but Weir breaks down concepts into easily digestible morsels. There are, however, a whole lot of morsels, and some of the digressions get in the way of the plot's momentum.

Science fiction that offers imaginative engineering solutions to futuristic problems (like dissipating heat in a vacuum) runs the risk of making a plot secondary to the problem-solving. Weir’s The Martian succeeded by making problem-solving integral to the plot (an astronaut’s survival depended on using science to find ways to stay alive). He doesn’t do that quite as well in Artemis (much of the science is integral to the background but not essential to the plot). The novel creates a convincing sense of what it might be like to live on a moon colony, but it does that by explaining how this works and how that works, which overloads the story with exposition. But as I said, it’s interesting exposition.

The larger question is whether Weir tells a story that has value apart from the science lectures. I think he does. The story creates an engagin protagonist, a precocious and sexually active teenage girl (every male geek's fantasy) who manages to solve a lot of problems with science. Weir imbues Jazz with a sense of humor (or at least a sense of irony) and enough personality to make her likeable. Secondary characters have enough personality to make them credible, and the plot moves quickly enough when it isn't being interrupted by science lectures. I’m not sure the plot is entirely plausible (given what’s at stake, I think the criminals would have made a more forceful effort than a brainy teenager would be able to overcome), and the ending is a bit forced, but Artemis is entertaining as well as educational, so I’m recommending it to science fiction fans.


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