By Andy Weir
Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the city on the moon. With a population of 2,000, unregulated currency (unregulated because it is not legally recognized as currency, just a unit of payment), and a law enforcement system that acts as jury, judge, and executioner, the city has developed some level of stasis around legal and illegal activities. Everybody knows everybody else, and there is nowhere to hide because only the shielded bubbles of Artemis provide life-sustaining oxygen, so minor criminal activities are brushed off and major crimes are almost unknown. As a porter, Jazz constantly toes the line of illegal activities that could potentially get her deported to Earth. She earns her living by smuggling in contraband. When one of her regular customers offers her a more nefarious job with a significantly higher payout, she quickly develops a plan for how to carry out this seemingly impossible task. When her plan goes awry, she accidentally uncovers a much darker underbelly of Artemis. Pursued by the mob and uncertain about whether she can trust the law enforcement and government entities of Artemis, Jazz turns to her small network of friends in a desperate attempt to save both her own life and her beloved city.
“Artemis” by Andy Weir starts at breakneck speed and never lets up. At the start of the book, this involves catching up to the future portrayed in the novel. Weir gradually uncovers the backstory of how Artemis came to be, what daily life looks like in the city, and the legal and social norms that developed over time. Once the reader is familiar with the chemistry requirements and unusual physics of life on Artemis (fight scenes are pretty exciting in 1/6 gravity where you can literally throw your opponent across the room), the plot starts to race along. As with his previous novel, “Artemis” is laden with science. Weir deftly weaves in the limits of physics, chemistry, radiation, and other concerns that constrain life on Artemis, while at the same time giving his characters plausible strategies to work around these limits. Weir writes with a casual tone that feels conversational, which occasionally leads to re-reading passages with complex scientific descriptions. Overall, the story moves quickly and will likely take less time to read than the 6 days that pass in the novel.
I enjoyed “Artemis,” though it did seem to read very differently from “The Martian” (or what I remember of “The Martian”). To me, “Artemis” reads like a thriller set on the moon with lots of science thrown in there. Not that that’s a bad thing – I finished the novel in 4 days. Some of the chemistry and physics explanations went over my head, but I still understood the gist of the story while brushing over some of the more nuanced details. One of the things I like most about the novel is that it portrays a fairly unconventional future (it’s the first book I’ve read in which Kenya is the gateway to space). I certainly recommend it.