From Andy Weir, the author of The Martian (my favourite book of 2015), comes a new science-fiction novel, Artemis. As with The Martian, I listened to the audiobook edition, which is narrated by Rosario Dawson. The performance on its own is okay: Dawson’s voice fits the protagonist very well, and she makes a good effort with the many different accents she needs to put on, but she sometimes struggles to maintain distinctive character voices, so that occasionally I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be speaking if the prose itself didn’t specify.
But what about the story itself? It takes place around the 2070s on Artemis, the first and only city on the Moon. The protagonist is Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a young woman who works as a porter, while supplementing her income through smuggling contraband. Jazz is offered an opportunity to get rich quick when a Norwegian businessman recruits her to sabotage one of the Moon’s major industries, which will allow him to buy it out. Jazz’s first attempt doesn’t go as planned, but before she can complete the assignment, it becomes clear that there’s something bigger going on, and she will need to think fast just to stay alive.
This is a very different sort of story from The Martian – centering around a heist for the first and third acts, with thriller elements in-between – but you can certainly tell it’s by the same author. The dry style of humour is very similar, as is the invention and explanations of futuristic technology which still manages to be grounded in reality. Particularly good is when Jazz gets in trouble because of some little bit of science she overlooked – like not being to make a spark with flint in a vacuum – which always feels believable. It would have been nice to learn more about how Artemis was built and what the ships going to and from the Moon are like, but ultimately that’s not relevant to the story. One wonders whether Artemis and The Martian take place in the same universe: while there are no references to the events of The Martian, neither are there any facts that would make it impossible. Artemis does feature a character named Bob Lewis, who might well be related to Mark Watney’s commander Melissa Lewis.
The setting of Artemis is very rich, and strikingly multicultural: Jazz herself is Arabic, and there are side characters from Kenya, Norway, Ukraine, Russia, Hong Kong and Brazil. Rather than just being politically correct, this again feels very believable, as a city on the Moon in the future would be sure to attract global interest. Having Kenya, of all places, be the central space-faring power behind Artemis feels like a random choice – until it is pointed out that Kenya sits on the Equator, making it an efficient site for launching rockets. The society portrayed is also neither utopian nor dystopian – indeed, it’s pretty much like the present day (unless you’re a cynic and would argue that we live in a dystopia now). Artemis’s residents have a strong sense of community and regulations are quite lax in some areas; but there is still crime, corruption and prostitution to be found.
I liked the character of Jazz, who is somebody you can root for despite being deeply flawed: as well as being a criminal, she is stubborn, can have a bad attitude, and is the first to admit that she has made some bad life decisions. I also liked how the story as a whole played out: it was engaging and mostly not too predictable. For example, at one point, it looks like a particular character is going to be exposed as the main villain – but it turns out they aren’t, despite having their own agenda. There were only a few minor flaws in the story: the technical explanations sometimes became difficult to follow, and some aspects of the ending felt a little too easy and convenient. And for all the aforementioned diversity, it felt a little stereotypical that out of Jazz’s former boyfriends, the one whom she describes as more sweet and loving than any other turned out to be gay – because apparently it would be unrealistic to expect such qualities from a heterosexual man.
If you enjoyed The Martian, then you’re in safe hands with Artemis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually gets a film adaptation too. Rating: 4.5/5.