Disclaimer time: I haven’t read The Martian, the book that made Andy Weir famous. I’ve seen the movie a few times, though, and that will have to suffice to allow me to make comparisons between that story and this, because comparisons are inevitable. The Martian is an amazing story about a man’s struggle to survive when he is left alone in a place where he should not have been able to survive, and about the myriad people who went all out to help him. It stirs the heartstrings. You really want to see this person succeed.
Artemis is set on the Moon instead of Mars, and the technology involved in surviving in the Moon’s harsh environment plays a large part in the plot. The difference here is in the universality and appeal of the characters and circumstances. Don’t get me wrong. Artemis is a very entertaining read, but it’s by no means as significant a work as The Martin. The reason lies in the characters and their motivations. In The Martian, we have interplanetary explorers studying a new planet, and we have a noble hero fighting for survival. On the other hand, the hero of Artemis is a petty smuggler turned industrial saboteur. A rich criminal wants to take over the Moon’s most lucrative industry, and he recruits Jasmine, nicknamed Jazz, a young Saudi Arabian woman in her mid-twenties with a penchant for profanity, to destroy the expensive equipment that helps the industry run in return for the Moon equivalent of a million bucks. Jazz agrees, not because she needs the money for some noble cause, but so she can move into a better apartment. This is before it comes out that the industry is run by bad guy mobsters. I can’t buy that in a hero, and I almost stopped reading at that point because I felt no sympathy for the main character.
I persevered because despite its flaws, the story is interesting. Weir’s strength as a writer is not in his prose, which is rudimentary, or his characters, which are quite shallow. What he does well is imagine the technology needed to sustain an environment suitable for human life and use it to play a key role in the plot development, just as he did in The Martian. All the little details of what it takes to survive in a city on the Moon are the unique aspects of this tale. It’s a quick, fast-paced read, and I could almost see the movie cameras setting up as I went along. After the success of the film of The Martian, it’s almost certain that some company will make a movie of Artemis. And that’s fine. It will probably be fun to watch. All the intricacies resolve themselves at the end in a very clever way. It will probably be a hit film.
Would I recommend this book? As light entertainment, sure, why not? It’s fun to read. It’s a relaxing diversion. I kind of wish Weir had gone deeper into all the issues he brings up, like homelessness, alienation from parents, predatory large corporations, amoral criminals, and the sociological and psychological implications of spending one’s whole life in a tiny confined space in the midst of a hostile environment. But then again, that’s obviously not what he’s after. He wants to tell a fun, light, action-packed, tech-based science fiction story. And in that he succeeds.