Artemis – Andy Weir

Jasmine Bashara lives in a coffin in Conrad Down 15, an address which says everything about the circumstances which, despite her vast potential, have brought her to such restrictive and primitive rented accommodation in the worst part of Artemis. That the city is the first permanently occupied settlement on another world should make it more exciting, yet somehow it only emphasises the disappointment which Jazz feels.

As Robert A Heinlein once observed, the Moon is a harsh mistress, and for most of the two thousand residents of Artemis they only get the chance to make a mistake once, which is why the constant procession of rich tourists need to be guided at every step of the way, which is where the easy money is.

Jazz, however, is merely a porter who makes her parsimonious living ferrying packages between the five domes of the city, Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad, Bean and Shepard, though her goal is to earn her certification to enter the EVA Guild so she can become a tour guide until a faulty valve on her second hand suit not only fails her the assessment but almost costs her life.

Fortunately Jazz is smart, determined and skilled and also well-connected despite her position in life because she runs a clandestine sideline bringing illicit luxury goods up from Earth, and one of the wealthiest businessmen on the Moon, Trond Landvik, has a taste for expensive cigars as well as his eyes on a significant new acquisition.

Determined to move into the oxygen business, the current exclusive suppliers must be swiftly and comprehensively put out of business, and for that Landvik needs an accomplice, one who is focused and resourceful, who has experience in a spacesuit and is interested in making a lot of money quickly and whom he already trusts with his secrets even if sabotage is not her usual line of work.

Andy Weir’s followup to his hugely successful debut novel, ArtemisĀ is in many ways more of the same but also completely different; prefaced by four maps, an overview and three more detailed closeups of the key locations, all the reader needs to know is precisely laid out, and like The Martian every step has been meticulously conceived and planned.

Where the story of the marooned survivor Mark Watney was one of overcoming astonishing odds through intelligence, analysis, adaptability and resilience in almost total isolation, Jazz lives in an environment no less alien or hostile despite its apparent familiarity, but she is surrounded by people even if the majority of them are consciously kept at arm’s length though she is fiercely loyal to the few close to her.

Determined, assured and with a fair mouth on her, Jazz is immediately likeable, and while she has made mistakes in her life she doesn’t feel sorry for herself, though her biggest errors of judgement are yet to come; although her instinct is to refuse Trond’s offer the money is simply too good for someone near broke, but despite the reduced gravity of the Moon the best laid plans can fall apart just as swiftly as on Earth.

Far from the survival and rescue ethos of The Martian, a heist is a different way to demonstrate the multitude of systems and contingencies upon which Artemis has been constructed and why each is needed, but where before the discourse was how they could be jerry-rigged here the intention is to circumvent them, and it is pleasing that Weir has not chosen to simply recreate The Martian, but as before he guides the reader through the world he has imagined with the confidence of one who knows and understands every detail.

Just as smart as Mark Watney, Jazz could not be more different, an ambitious underachiever who keeps her true smarts in check because she feels that nobody deserves her in the small and strictly controlled population, large enough to be an autonomous economy but small enough to know everyone’s business.

The swift and precise prose reminding of the work of Joe Haldeman, every phrase conveys the exact amount of information required, always expressed through Jazz’s cynical but never-too-serious viewpoint, a child of two worlds living in the cracks between them and wanted by both sides of the law, one possibly to protect her, the other definitely to silence her.

Another significant departure from The Martian where the circumstances of the novel were never likely to recur even if Mark Watney had been inclined to leave the surface of the Earth again, as a crucial outpost of humanity with both its population and its economic significance growing, a return trip to Artemis seems less of a possibility and more of a welcome likelihood.

Artemis is available now from Del Rey

 

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