by Andy Weir
Hardcover, 305 pg.
Crown Publishing Group (NY), 2017
Read: November 16, 2017
“You all right? You look kind of pale.”
I was about ready to puke. Lying to Dad transported me back to my teen years. And let me tell you: there’s no one I hate more than teenage Jazz Bashara. That stupid bitch made every bad decision that a stupid bitch could make. She’s responsible for where I am today.
“I’m fine. Just a little tired.”
We’ll get back to older-than-teenaged Jazz Bashara in a minute, I just wanted to start with that . . .
Can you imagine the pressure that Andy Weir was under following the success of The Martian? Just knowing that whatever he put out would be compared to that phenomenon would cripple most people. Proving that he has the Right/Write Stuff, he was able to put the pressure aside and give us Artemis. I’d like to say I’m not going to compare the two, but why lie to you?
Artemis is the first city on the Moon — made up of 5 domes with levels of living quarters under the surface (by the way, we get some nifty maps in the front of the city and its environs), a small city (for now) that’s primarily a tourist destination. There’s a great pseudo-currency set up to handle things, and a history and raison d’être for Artemis — just part of the wonderful job of world-building that Weir did. Papers should be written about how well he did here, by people who have more time than me. Not only did Weir do a great job of building this world, but he introduces it very well — showing us what he created while introducing us to Jazz Bashara, so we get to know them together. A lot of Hard SF comes across as slow, ponderous, and unapproachable — Weir manages to avoid all that and actually entertains.
It’s not as essential to like Jazz as it was Mark Watney to enjoy this book, but it’s close. She’s a young woman of Saudi descent who grew up on Artemis, and rebelled against the high hopes that her father and teachers had for her and became a petty criminal. Primarily Jazz is a smuggler — getting those creature comforts for residents of the Moon that just can’t get past Artemisian security. She’s crafty, wily, angry, and uses profanity in an incredibly creative way (we don’t have to endure most of that, we’re just treated to the occasional profane neologism, e.g., “fusamitch”). I think you can still think she’s an annoying little twit who should be arrested and enjoy the book — but it’s so much easier to just like her.
Once we meet Jazz and are treated to some pretty cool world-building, Artemis stops being so much a SF novel and focuses on being a Heist/Caper/Thriller (in a hard SF setting). One of Jazz’s regular customers approaches her with a job that she can’t turn down — it’ll make her rich, allow her to pay off all her debt and leave her with a lot of money. She almost has to take the job. Being a heist/caper novel, you know things will get off to a good start and then things will go horribly awry. That’s exactly what happens. The fun is watching things go awry and then watch her (and her eventual allies) react.
Artemis is a pretty small city and it doesn’t take too long for word to spread that she was behind the Big Thing (even if she denies it every chance she gets). The company she tried to interfere with is not the kind of group you want to interfere with, they’re not really that concerned with things like “criminal law” when it comes to protecting their investments. Nor it doesn’t matter if the small law enforcement force is small — so small there’s only one man — if that one man starts investigating you the instant something wrong happens. The list of “the usual suspects” doesn’t necessarily begin and end with Jazz, but she’s sure a large component of that list.
So Jazz is on the run from her victims, the fuzz, and she’s still needs to finish the job. Meanwhile the body count starts to get higher and the pressure is mounting. We’re told that young Jazz had a lot of potential — she might even technically be a genius — and in watching her think on her feet, adapting to the catastrophes that keep befalling her and her schemes we get to see just why that was said about her. I don’t think it’s wrong to see shades of Slippery Jim diGriz here (but she’s not nearly as experienced, or as devoted to crime, as The Stainless Steel Rat).
There are other characters, this isn’t just the Jazz show — she interacts with other people (allies, enemies, antagonists, potential victims, friends — a father that I’m not sure what group he belongs in) — again, compare to Watney. This is done really well — there’s a spark to all of them, they’re all well-rounded and fleshed-out. The emotions are real and relatable, the setting might be as alien as you can get for most of us — but at the end of the day, people are people and we all want pretty much the same things.
One thing we all know that Andy Weir does well is the science. And I’m not just talking about the big things like how to construct a lunar city or how to power it, etc. There’s all the little touches, like:
Lunar dust is extremely bad to breathe. It’s made of teeny, tiny rocks, and there’s been no weather to smooth them out. Each mote is a spiky, barbed nightmare just waiting to tear up your lungs. You’re better off smoking a pack of asbestos cigarettes than breathing that shit.
or the 4-second lag time for Internet traffic to route down to Earth and back before you get your search results., or the efforts of Jazz’s bartender friend to successfully reconstitute whiskey.
I feel like I could keep going (I’ve only used half of my notes at this point), but my point’s been made, why belabor it? This SF/Thriller/Heist with a lot of heart and a lot of laughs is not just a great follow-up to The Martian, but a great read period. One of my favorites of the year, and I’m already looking forward to rereading it soon.