I often get confused between Andy Weir and Ernest Cline, and there was a part of me that got excited mistaking Artemis for Art3mis, and hence a Ready Player Two. But after enduring months with the opening chapter tease and having my expectations already raised by Egg, Martian and even Lacero, I must admit to being massively disappointed. This might be an over statement, but in all this author confusion I am inclined to tag Artemis as Wier’s Armada than a worthy successor of his debut novel.
Artemis is a lunar colony, a space version of Bioshock‘s Rapture city, and functions under a hierarchical society that follows a post-modern caste system. Built under the patronage of Kenyan government, who had gone Sri Lankan–Space Elevator–path with geopolitics here, Artemis provides home and employment to a considerable number of humans in Tourism and their indigenous Aluminium smelting Industry. Book opens up with impressive topographical sketches of Artemis stations and does a fairly good job in designing a sustainable functional ecosystem in Moon. Written in first person monologue format, the story unfolds through the eyes of a first generation Artemisian and is confined mostly in Conrad Bubble, which is basically an affluent Belt favela from Expanse universe. Our protagonist is a Saudi girl, Jazz, with name of Jasmine and lifestyle of Aladdin, and a weird obsession towards poor life choices. Weir explicitly and repeatedly states the genius of Jazz and her state of life being her own edgy choice than lack of options. But, like her Dad and acquaintances around, I too was not impressed by her or the course of events.
The diversity and the cosmopolitan culture of space station, though conspicuously forced, were commendable, and I enjoyed the small town treatment of lunar bubble in consideration. The cultural contrasts between Earth and Moon, though through brief epistolary side narrative, was well expressed. Even with this edgy diversity and ecumenical lunar immigrant city life, the novel’s near future wasn’t free of clichéd stereotypes. Like the semi centennial Hollywood tradition of killing off the black guy first or making the Asian guy in the guild either a nerd or a Katana expert, Artemis had its own weird conventions. Working classes, for some reason, were from Middle East, tourists were majorly Americans, crime syndicate from Brazil etc. And to me, this cronyistic nationalism and sterile approach was a huge turn off, considering story’s futuristic premise surrounding a lunar colony. There was even a closed room geek who pretty much manufactured every tech the plot needed, and he, with his shady business background, was conveniently a Slav.
I remember the reddit AMA where Weir answered Doctor Who to a question whose answers of choice were Star Trek and Star Wars. Not sure whether its this predisposition or his weak attempt to attribute references just for the sake of it, the NCC 1701 code breaking felt like ‘trying too hard to stay mainstream’ to me. In fact he didn’t stop there, and went off the narrative to insert an unnecessary and misplaced Han Solo reference as well, like crossing off some list. I love them both, even Who, but its a bit cringy when contemporary literatures find themselves compelled to make passing references, by any means necessary. The contrast was all the more visible, since other pop culture comments felt so natural and aptly placed. Watney‘s SOL log styled quirky monologue and well conveyed science, in my opinion, are author’s strong suit; and novel’s ‘Jashn Bahara’ easily rendered this style irritating by being an arrogant snowflake that somehow enjoys infinite lifeline. The science also felt misplaced at times too, like author had decided to write down everything in his research, no matter what the question was.
Rather than being an alcove into life in Moon, the novel was invested in being a panegyrical record of its young delinquent’s jagged adventures. And Weir based it so much on the central character that everyone else felt like some insignificant yet obligatory NPCs, who were there to just nod and propel her narrative. She wasn’t any help either.
Or like Jazz might say, “In comparison with the red planet castaway, Artemis was just a glorified cheap slugged gunk, if you know what I mean.”