Thursday, February 1, 2018

Artemis by Andy Weir: A review

Reading this book reminded me of an old story (possibly apocryphal) about Aaron Copland. It was said that, when told that Copland had written a new piece of music, a critic said, "What's he calling it this time?" Well, this time Andy Weir is calling it Artemis but it is basically The Martian just reset on the Moon. 

I read The Martian a couple of years ago and really, really enjoyed it. Especially the science stuff. Even when I didn't understand it, it was fascinating. And then there was the personality of Mark Watney, the astronaut trapped on Mars. His wisecracking smartass never-say-die schtick seemed just right for the situation.

Now, imagine Mark Watney transferred to the Moon and changed to a Saudi woman who has lived in the one lunar city, Artemis, since she was six years old and was brought there by her father, a welder. She was trained by her father to be a welder and displayed a real talent for the craft, but she was a rebel and grew up to pursue a minimalist job as a "porter," basically a UPS delivery person. But her main work and main source of income is as a smuggler. Oh, and, to the shame of her devout Muslim father, she also has the reputation of being the town slut who has sex with lots and lots of men, although there is entirely zero evidence of that in this narrative.

Her name is Jasmine Bashar, but she is Jazz to her friends and there seem to be a lot of those. Moreover, the authorities in Artemis display a curiously benevolent attitude toward her and her activities. This is essentially a small town where everybody knows everybody and people look out for each other. There are no guns allowed and everyone lives in one of the five residential bubbles named after early astronauts - Armstrong, Bean, Conrad, Aldrin, and Shepard. Jazz lives in Conrad, in the poorest section. Yes, classes exist even on the Moon, it seems.

The whole plot of the tale involves a caper that starts out as a profit-making (and highly illegal) venture for Jazz. She's hired by one of the rich guys in town to do a spot of sabotage, but midway through, it turns into a venture to save Artemis itself from being taken over by the Brazilian mob(!). It's too complicated to explain.

I left out the part about how Artemis was a Kenyan project and it is still run by Kenyans and Jazz has a Kenyan pen pal who she has been interacting with for years and who helps her with her smuggling operation. Although run by Kenyans, the culture of Artemis is definitely American and early 21st century American at that. (The time frame of the novel is never explained, unless it was in one of those sections of the book where my eyes glazed over.) 

The story is told by Jazz, in the same manner - the very same manner! - that The Martian was narrated by Mark. In other words, she makes everything a joke. But when everything is comic relief, one needs some relief from the comedy and one doesn't get it here. Life is just a goofy caper and the humor is heavy-handed and forced.  

At one point, about two-thirds of the way through the book, I found myself sort of getting interested in the plot. There was a conversation between Jazz and the administrator of Artemis, in which the administrator is explaining how economies evolve:
“It’s all part of the life-cycle of an economy. First it’s lawless capitalism until that starts to impede growth. Next comes regulation, law enforcement, and taxes. After that: public benefits and entitlements. Then, finally, overexpenditure and collapse.” 
Hmm, that's interesting, I thought, but then Jazz came back with her sarcasm and my burgeoning interest deflated. 

In addition to the one-note narrative, there is a LOT of welding going on in this book. If you are a big welding fan, you might enjoy that. I skimmed through those sections as fast as I could.

My impression is that Andy Weir is very good with the science stuff, including the welding. All of that is lovingly explained. He's not good with character development. It seems he has one protagonist and he's sticking with him/her. The ancillary characters are flat as pancakes - no development at all. In addition, this plot was really muddled and didn't make a lot of sense to me. I was really glad to turn that last page.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 

9 comments:

  1. On that note (and a heck of a note it was), I'll probably skip this one. Now though, I have a craving for a stack of flat pancakes.

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    1. I found it a major disappointment, mainly because of the lack of character development. But don't let me put you off it, Bill; you might like it. Enjoy those pancakes!

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  2. NOTE TO CARMEN: I may have accidentally deleted a comment from you. If so, I apologize. If it was someone else, then never mind!

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  3. LOL! It was mine. ;-) Anyways, I was lamenting that this one didn't work for you and that I have read some favorable reviews from other bloggers, though they are quick to point out that Jazz is a Mark Watney copycat, as you very well said. ;-)

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    1. Well, thanks for taking the effort to post again. I'll try not to delete you this time! Yes, I had read mostly favorable reviews of the book, too, so I was definitely disappointed not to be able to agree with them.

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  4. Ouch! Thanks for being an advance reader for me. Maybe the movie will be better, if there is one.

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    1. Reading is so personal, and I don't ever like to put anyone off a book, because it might just be something you'd love. I can only give my own unique reaction and it was not positive with this book.

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  5. I sort of agree with you but liked the book anyway - I didn't think Jazz was like the Martian - I didn't like her at all whereas Watney was very relatable. I agree with you that everyone reads things differently - and the same book can get different reactions depending on your mood etc. Cheers

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    1. I think your reaction is probably the majority one, Carole.

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