Book Review: Andy Weir’s Artemis Doesn’t Quite Lift Off

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Andy Weir
322 pages
Crown Publishing

As I was reading Any Weir’s new novel, “Artemis,” I began thinking about the components of a good caper story. What makes us want to watch a group of crooks break the law?

“Ocean’s 11” (the remake) is a pretty good model. You’ve got a charismatic leader Danny Ocean (George Clooney), his trusted alter-ego sidekick Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), and a quirky crew of oddballs all with their own special roles to play in the big heist.

Their goal is to steal $160 million locked in a seemingly impregnable vault that constitutes the revenues from not one, not two but count ’em three Las Vegas casinos. Here they’ve got a chance to take the house with one enormous roll of the dice. It’s the dream of anyone who’s ever visited Sin City.

The final element is a good antagonist who deserves to be robbed. Here we’ve got Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the ruthless owner of the three casinos who will “kill you, then he’ll go to work on you” if you cross him. And Benedict is dating Ocean’s former wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), whom the thief wants to win back.

“Artemis,” which is the name of lunar colony where the story is set about 60 years in the future, is not a straightforward caper story. Andy Weir’s followup to “The Martian” is a caper/thriller that quickly enmeshes the heroine in “the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself,” as the book jacket says. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite work as either a caper or a thriller.

Jazz is a porter and small-time smuggler eking out a living literally at the bottom of the economic ladder on Artemis. While serving wealthy clients in Artemis’ five domes named Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad, Bean and Shepard, she lives hand to mouth in a cramped apartment that seems to be modeled after Japan’s capsule hotels. (Those are fun for the night, but try living in one.) She must share communal bathrooms and showers.

Artemis was built and is run by a Kenyan corporation. It seems that all the major space powers of today priced themselves out of the market for building moon colonies by over regulating their space industries, so everyone who was anyone went to Kenya. In this there are shades of Luxembourg’s effort to corner the market on asteroid mining.

One day a customer for whom Jazz regularly smuggles goods offers her a million slugs (the lunar currency) to pull off a little caper for him. The plan doesn’t totally make sense, something she realizes at the time. It also seems like a job best left to some ex-special forces types. Despite her doubts, she takes it because, hey, a million slugs is a million slugs.

I probably shouldn’t reveal much more of the plot here. Suffice to say, the caper doesn’t go quite according to plan, people start dying, and Jazz finds herself on the run from some very angry and powerful people who would happily throw her out of an airlock in her birthday suit.

While trying to stay alive, Jazz must put together a crew to help her finish the job. Although we meet the various members of the team throughout the story, they don’t really come together until roughly 200 pages into a 300-page book. That’s when the real action starts.

As the heroine, I found Jazz is more irritating than engaging. She’s certainly resourceful, but it would have been nice if she had been a little more clever. I’m not sure Weir has quite gotten a handle on how to write a strong female character.

The crew she assembles is an interesting bunch. I think the antagonist needed a bit more fleshing out. One yearns for a Terry Benedict-type character.

Overall, it was a bit of a disappointment for me. Those who are more technically oriented than I am will probably like Weir’s descriptions of the colony and how everything works in it.

  • Pat Swayne

    The lossless fiber optic cable in the story reminds me of the experiment done on the ISS with fiber optic cable. I’m very interested to see how that experiment turned out.

  • ThomasLMatula

    What is sad is that it continues the model of the big evil crooked corporation that seems to be found in so many science fiction stories these days. I guess that is because the only thing most folks learn in their history classes is about the so called “Robber Barons” when they study the innovators who built modern America. As such they never realize how much they improved the lives of folks living today.

    The author also doesn’t seem to have much respect for engineers thinking they would design a critical system without basic safeguards. And ignore the time factor it would actually take for such events to happen, it would not be in a single instance.

    The author is right in one instance, we wouldn’t know what the killer apps are that will come from space settlement until we do it. The first settlers in Jamestown expected to get rich from gold and silver, instead they made their fortunes off of tobacco and indigo. In New England it was Cod and Shipbuilding that built wealth.