Recommendation: It’s very silly fun, but I’d rather reread The Martian

Where to read: Commuting

Read with: Bowmore 12 Year

In brief: This is a classic example of an author venturing out of home waters (lots of technical details, mostly first person narration, simple story concept and limited world building) and into more dangerous waters (dialogue, “the twist” and an entirely new world to portray). It’s still entertaining, but it won’t make my reread list.

I adored Andy Weir’s The Martian so I was probably always going to enjoy this one. That said, Artemis is nowhere near as good as its predecessor.

For one thing, Mark Watney is a superb character and it was always going to be a challenge to write someone equally as compelling, particularly since Weir sticks to writing in the first person. I enjoyed Jazz but she is too handy to be entirely credible, and this is coming from someone who hates the Mary Sue label and the gendered hypocrisy in the way it is applied. You will note, for example, that it is never used to describe the many mysteriously skilled male characters of fantasy fiction because “destiny” or “he would have learned it on the farm obviously” or “there’s one fleeting reference to a toy sword”. Here, however, she seems to have been written with all the skills someone just happens to need to fulfil the requirements of the plot, rather than the other way around, and with not much (logical) explanation offered for how she’s acquired them. More irritatingly, her narrative voice has a distressing tendency to slip into “man writing a woman who is trying to be like a man” – there are some cringe comments about how she thinks she looks hot in x or y outfit, and there’s an uncomfortable amount of humour about her sex life.

The bigger issues, however, are the broader cast of supporting characters and the general concept. On the former topic, Weir is clearly more comfortable with a smaller cast of characters and a story conveyed primarily through narration rather than dialogue (a position with which I have the deepest sympathy). The result is a set of national caricatures for a supporting cast and some awkward exposition through dialogue and attempted banter we could have done without.

On the latter point, the fundamental concept should work – it’s a city on the moon, international cast of characters, lots of tension, very high stakes if anything goes wrong, what’s not to love. Unfortunately, however, it kind of misfires. The basic premise is that Kenya set up a space program, leveraging its proximity to the equator and a total lack of regulation to attract private investment. I think it’s meant to be a sort of modern East India Trading Company or a take on the old trading charter mechanism used by a number of the European colonial powers to incentivise private involvement in colonisation, but it seems odd in this context. Indeed, the whole story depends on the assumption that a moon city can simultaneously operate with so little state involvement, funding or public interest that it becomes a 17th century Port Royal, but also that there is enough economic activity to justify a large number of tradespeople and some seriously nefarious plotting. It doesn’t really interfere with your enjoyment of an entertainingly silly plot, but I don’t think it holds up as an exercise in world building.

For all that, it is a fun heist story in reduced gravity and I’ve still got Weir’s next outing on pre-order.

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