The City on the Moon: A Review of Artemis, by Andy Weir

Andy Weir’s first novel took us to the barren landscape of Mars, where a lone astronaut struggled to survive on a harsh world.  Super storms, a thin atmosphere, a general lack of sustainable food and water, and the inability to call home for help all threatened the life of Mark Watney.  So, how does a writer follow up a story like that?  A story which won multiple awards and got turned into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon?  He puts a woman on the moon. He plans a tech-savvy heist Danny Ocean would be proud of.  He builds an entire city from scratch, using a combination of modern science and engineering imagination.

Andy Weir may be a best-selling author now, but he didn’t start that way.  With a background in computer science and programming, Weir worked for various software companies, including Blizzard Entertainment, while working on short stories and comics.  The man is a scientist, and the fact is reflected in his writing.  Weir spent roughly a year developing the lunar colony, Artemis, before writing the first word of the Artemis the novel.  He wanted to make sure everything about life on the Moon was as accurate as possible.  To that end, Weir engaged in some monumental city planning.  Solar power technology is not quite where it needs to be to power an entire city, so nuclear reactors were built.  Construction materials are smelted from the raw materials found on the moon after calculating the costs of bringing it all up from Earth.  Food is mostly a mixture colloquially known as “gunk” since growing crops and raising livestock is nigh impossible.  A ridiculous amount of thought was put into the daily life of the people of Artemis and, after finishing the book in under a week, I can say that the future not only seems possible, but probable.

The book follows a young woman named Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a porter and smuggler living in the lunar colony’s poorer sections.  Her day job involves catering to the rich tourists who frequent the lunar colony, either to see the Apollo landing site or to spice up their sex life.  Jazz, in one of her many asides, jokes that the low gravity tends to make things interesting.  However, Jazz’s main source of income is smuggling contraband up the gravity well from Earth.  Because of the colony’s unique setting and atmospheric makeup (with a much higher percentage of pure oxygen that Earth), anything flammable is highly regulated.  This situation leads to Jazz’s biggest customer being a wealthy businessman with a love of fine cigars.  From there, the plot takes all the general twists and turns one would expect from a heist story, but with a significant enough difference in setting and execution to keep things interesting.  Weir’s scientific knowledge is on full display during these scenes, making sure you feel the same tension Jazz does when she realizes how difficult it is to keep a welding torch lit during an EVA on the lunar surface.

Jazz herself is a static character throughout the story.  She begins the novel as a greedy smuggler, and ends the novel as a famous, slightly richer, greedy smuggler.  Over the course of the story, she manages to accomplish her main goal, repair several broken relationships, and even gain a lover interest.  However, Jazz’s personality, her core being, never changes in any major way.  She is like the city she lives in; a fixture for others to grow and change around.  Reading through Artemis, I was also struck by how much I enjoyed spending time with Jazz.  She is an incredibly flawed, selfish person who, as her father reminds her, could have been so much more.  Weir, unlike many male science-fiction writers attempting to write from a female POV, manages to craft a real person who never seems too perfect or too weak.  Jazz is smart, but she messes up a lot, and in major ways.  The final set piece in particular is a testament to both her competence and recklessness.

Despite Jazz’s voice narrating us through the story, the real star is Artemis itself.  Weir’s true love is the science behind his novel, and that is reflected in his writing.  The book is never quite as interesting as when Jazz guides us through the lunar colony, lecturing on where oxygen is generated or bragging about the city’s history.  It’s clear she loves the city just at least as much as Weir does.  That being said, it does at times it feels like the plot exists just to show off the technology that keeps Artemis running and its people breathing.  Characters speak equal part in jokes and insults, villains are revealed to be exactly who we expect them to be, and our heroes react to everything in just the right way to move the story forward.  Despite all this, the book works.  The city of Artemis looms over everything and everyone, granting a greater sense of meaning to every action Jazz takes.  Hers and Weir’s love for humanity’s first colony is so real, so strong, that the reader cannot help but feel invested in the outcome of their heist.

The future Weir envisions is remarkable, even if the society that occupies it is disturbingly familiar.  The titular lunar colony makes it painfully clear that technological progression does not always equal human progression.  However, Weir uses that familiarity to his advantage in Artemis, pushing through the stumbles and occasionally stiff dialogue.  By looking at where we are today, the book tries to show us where we will be in a hundred years.  If our future is even remotely close to what Weir shows us, then it would be a wondrous future indeed.  Just don’t forget your oxygen tank.  I hear that’s in short supply on the moon.

Artemis can be found online, in stores, or wherever books are sold.

Total read time: 6-7 days

Next on the list: The Wrong Stars, by Tim Pratt

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