At the Fall 2017 Preview, Penguin Random House Canada billed Artemis as “a heist set on the moon,” and really, what sci-fi geek bookworm could resist? By the author of The Martian, Artemis is about a small-time smuggler named Jazz Bashara who gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot at a seven figure payday. All she needs to do is commit industrial sabotage on the moon’s most powerful corporation. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s become part of a much larger conspiracy, one with far-reaching political consequences for the moon’s small community.
Much like The Martian, Artemis is filled to bursting with scientific and engineering information that makes you believe the story is actually possible. If humanity did have a colony on the moon, Artemis does sound a lot like how it would function, and if a real-life Jazz Bashara had to pull of such a heist, Weir manages to make the most outlandish scenarios seem realistic. Weir’s extensive research and love for the material are apparent, and it was awesome to learn little tidbits like, for example, that a fire on the moon colony would be much worse than on Earth because of oxygen levels. I’d be curious to hear what scientists and engineers have to say about the story’s realism, but to this layperson at least, the things Weir says sound logical.
Also much like The Martian, Artemis is just plain fun! It’s a bit of a relief to have Jazz surrounded by such a large cast of characters — there’s room for a lot more to go on, for one thing, and a lot more personalities to bounce off of. There was also less of the loneliness and existential fear that persisted as an undercurrent through The Martian. There was a very real sense that Mark Watney could very well be doomed to die alone on the planet, despite all his best efforts to survive, and that just tugs at a very deep-seated fear in the heart of the reader. In contrast, while Jazz getting killed or exiled were both very real possibilities, these are more familiar — and dare I say, comfortable — risks to encounter, and certainly expected in a crime caper.
I also loved the diversity in the characters of Artemis. Jazz is from Saudi Arabia, her father is a devout Muslim, her pen pal / Earthly smuggling partner is Kenyan, the person who controls Artemis’ most powerful corporation is Latina, and there are cultural enclaves mentioned throughout.I’m almost looking forward to Hollywood taking on this project, if only because Weir’s very descriptions require the cast to be mostly persons of colour. I especially love that Kenya is the leader in the space industry, and the leader of Artemis is a Kenyan woman who single-handedly took advantage of other nations’ bickering to solve the world’s problems and lead the moon colony. There’s also a great scene where Jazz’s father creates a sloped apparatus that allows him to actually face Mecca when praying — the moon’s orbit doesn’t give Muslims on Artemis a direct view of Mecca, so they mostly just faced west, but with Jazz’s father’s invention, they could do their prayers in the traditionally proper way.
My main gripe with Artemis is that despite its kickass female protagonist, it still felt male-gaze-y, mostly in Jazz’s sense of humour, which is more like a teenage boy’s than a woman in her 20s. For example, while in a space suit, she takes a drink of water by biting a nipple and, in brackets, cracks, “try not to get excited.” In another scene, she changes into a space suit and suddenly realizes the security cameras are still on and her father and male friend Svoboda are watching. “Did you see me change?” she demands. Her father is embarrassed, Svoboda is gleeful and Jazz makes a wisecrack and moves on. There’s also a weird running joke about a specially designed condom Svoboda wants her to try out, and Jazz keeps rolling her eyes and telling him that no, she hasn’t had sex in the one or two days since he’s given her the condom. This sounds very much like a woman trying to fit in a man’s world, or more apt, a man trying to write a woman character. I can imagine women making these wisecracks to fit in with the men they work with, but always inwardly aware that they’re playing a role and making do; there is no such self-awareness in Jazz. Also, given how much Svoboda drools over her, I’m surprised such a strong, awesome woman as Jazz would ever be attracted to him — his lusting over her is pathetic horndog rather than adorably inept, somewhat like Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz without the self-confidence. Even a male fantasy can do better. (If there had to be a love interest, I was personally pulling for the Mountie or the Kenyan pen pal, both of whom were more compelling.)
Still, overall Artemis is a rollicking fun read, and despite a few cringe-worthy one-liners, Jazz is an awesome character. She starts off as a loveable Han Solo-esque smuggler who just wants to get rich quick and retire in luxury, but as we get to know her and the real reason she needs so much money so quickly, a much softer character emerges. Weir has built a fantastically complex, pulsing world in Artemis, and it was an utter delight to experience it through Jazz’s eyes.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.