3.5 out of 5 stars
It’s not The Martian, but Artemis definitely does science the shit out of its surroundings.
Artemis is advertised as a heist story, set on the moon. Heists?! My favorite. Sci-fi?! Also on the list! And I knew my husband would be into it on audiobook for a long car ride. So we settled into the story and Route 95 North.
Jazz Bashara, our anti-heroine, is a very smart, very talented waste. She lives in the moon’s only colony, the city of Artemis. In this city, which is primarily a tourist destination for very rich Earthers, there is a social hierarchy like our own: the rich, the poor, the white and blue collar, and the extremely rich whose industry by which Artemis flourishes, and by which they themselves do the same. Instead of putting her many honest skills to good use, Jazz is a bit lazy, a troublemaker and minor criminal with a bad attitude. So when she is roped into an industrial espionage plot with a big payday, of course she can’t say no.
First off: Jazz is a girl. A smart and sassy girl criminal on the moon? Sell me your hardcovers. And this isn’t even a YA book! Secondly: The Artemis audiobook is performed by Rosario Dawson, who effortlessly kicks ass simply by reading aloud.
As many main characters are wont to do, Jazz makes a series of predictably terrible decisions that drive the story. Weir does a pretty good job of making them believable – Jazz is a schemer, who thinks she always has the upper hand. I didn’t get frustrated with her until she, the character, was fed up with herself. That’s a good character arc to ride. The supporting cast rounds out Jazz’s petulance: her strictly religious father, her hapless dork of a techie friend, her ex-best friend who stole her boyfriend. Much a solo act like The Martian, this story has room for only one giant personality. Weir does a good job of working in enough outside color.
In truth, this isn’t really a heist story. There are criminal activities, breaking and entering, but it’s more about ruining (or incapacitating) things than actually stealing them. So “heist” is a misnomer – and being that it’s my favorite genre, that was a bit disappointing. This is a caper. A crime novel. And a good one… just don’t call it a heist.
But the science in Artemis! It’s fascinating and glorious and, since Weir does so much research, as accurate as possible. It gives the story an incredible world-build to rival any novel, and it’s all true! The way the moon’s gravity affects everything from sex to driving, the fact that a fire, or a bullet, in a pressurized bubble containing the only breathable oxygen for 238,900 miles, could literally kill everyone. There’s even a great component of the plot where the time it takes for backup to arrive depends on the travel time between Earth and the moon. It’s like slow-motion opposite world, only one you’re already kind of familiar with. A brilliant setting, easily explained and woven seamlessly into the action. If my physics teacher could have managed that, my report card would have looked very different.
The culminating crime of Artemis is not the grand finale. Weir takes the book past it’s first end, to a second (even better) ending. The inexactness of intention collides with the harsh brutality of science and nature for an end that is very human – all the more so for taking place on the moon. Much like The Martian, there’s a larger question here: Who are we do to this, when we don’t always know what we’re doing?
Sidebar: If Artemis had been written by a woman, it would be YA fiction. Sure they might have rewritten Jazz to be a few years younger, for the sake of the “genre”. But without changing a word of this book, it could be lined up next to SJ Maas and Cassadra Clare. And it would sell… but not to the audience Artemis did. It may be sci-fi, but it’s a perfect example of Book Riot’s point: “There’s a Weird, Sexist Problem in Fantasy that We Need to Talk About.”