It is hard to talk about Artemis in a vacuum, and that’s not just because there’s no air to carry sound.
Alright. Tough room. Let’s move on.
As you may know, Artemis is the spiritual follow-up to Andy Weir’s debut science fiction novel The Martian, so it is exceedingly difficult to mention Artemis without also bringing up that book. So I guess that’s what I’ll have to do.
The Martian was a fantastic piece of hard science fiction with an incredibly unique voice and unparalleled scientific detail – for a modern novel, anyway. The character of Mark Watney was a relatable everyman, despite being a freakin’ astronaut, and his humorously humble narration was key to us not only sympathizing with him, but also explaining the problems he encountered and solutions he had to come up with to survive. The book had me at the edge of my seat from cover to cover. The action was gripping, the jokes were cute, the plot was interesting, and the science was accurate.
Artemis is nearly the same book. It features a similarly wise-cracking protagonist in a dire situation – this time on the Moon, rather than Mars – with a lot of good science to back it up. Despite the fact that it’s pretty much identical in all these respects, Artemis just… doesn’t work.
The plot of Artemis isn’t its strong suit. That being said, The Martian’s plot was basically the word ‘survive’ in big bold letters, but at least it offered a compelling narrative that I could care about despite its simplicity. Artemis, on the other hand, with a plot about smuggling and corporate sabotage on a Moon Base, just left me cold. There are more moving pieces than The Martian, with a few interconnected plots, but the substance behind them all felt strangely absent. I struggled at several points to even care about what was going on and the ultimate reveal of the pseudo-mystery was underwhelming. And it certainly wasn’t helped by the book’s voice.
Artemis is filtered through the thoughts of Jazz Bashara. She is a 20-something Muslim woman who has lived on the Moon her whole life. She is also Mark Watney. Jazz has the same voice, talks directly to the audience, and uses similar juvenile jokes. All of this worked with Mark because (a) it was unique at the time; (b) the jokes were relatively fresh – especially coming from an astronaut – and they didn’t overstay their welcome; (c) he had a tangible reason to talk to the audience, since he was recording a log. Jazz does all these things… again, and it just gets irritating. As the book goes on, it becomes clear that Jazz’s only key difference from Mark is that she has boobs and has lots of sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but she (or Andy) feels the need to call out both things at least once every other chapter in order to remind the audience that she is, in fact, a lady person.
Jazz’s voice also hampers what would have been Artemis’ most interesting carry-over from The Martian: the hard science. The Moon Base setting is rife with opportunities and challenges for a technically minded science-whiz to sink their teeth into. And there is quite a bit of that. Jazz has to perform complex excursions and demolitions on the Moon with little oxygen and limited supplies, but her scientific travails are fewer and further between than Mark Watney’s – and since they are tied to a relatively lackluster plot – they become inherently less interesting. Jazz’s voice also tends to get grating and does the expression of technical details a disservice.
Yes, the plot, character, and science-communication in Artemis have their problems. But by far the biggest issue I take with Artemis is the goddamn condom.
Okay, I may have lost some of you with that last bit if you didn’t read the book. So let’s back up a smidge.
Early on in the story, Jazz visits her friend Martin Svoboda, a microelectronics engineer, who serves as her gadget and technical contact. In addition to providing her technical advice and doohickeys, the first time they meet, he provides her with his prototype for a reusable space condom.
First of all: gross.
Second of all: gross.
Since Jazz has well established herself as someone who has a lot of sex, Svoboda thinks that, clearly, she is the perfect person to test out this miracle of modern science.
Third of all: gross.
In this chapter, Jazz reluctantly takes the condom and agrees to put it through its paces. Then for the rest of the book, despite her self-proclaimed reputation, Jazz proceeds to have no sex. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but since that did not happen, I assumed that the condom would come into use in some scientific way. Maybe using its material as an air seal or a small fan belt due to its tensile strength. But no. Aside from Svoboda reminding Jazz to test out the condom a few times, it doesn’t come up in any significant respect.
A wise Russian man named Anton Chekov once said: “if in the first act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” Jazz’s space condom remains a Chekov’s Gun that goes irritatingly unfired (or… um… similarly unused) by the end of the story. After such an air-tight debut with The Martian – in which almost no detail was spared it was really striking that such an obvious loose end like the condom was ignored. Even if it was only meant to exist as a dumb joke, it’s all set up and no punchline, which – as an erstwhile comedian – may offend me even more than the whole literary device issue.
Andy Weir seems to have one mode and that mode was a great fit for a perfect storm like The Martian, but taking that same formula and applying it to other situations causes the entire book to suffer and feel like a poor simulacrum. Had Artemis come first, it may have been better received but following The Martian, it vastly pales in comparison. As such, Artemis will always live in its shadow, despite being pretty much the exact same book. As I said at the beginning, it is hard to talk about Artemis in a vacuum. But the real crucial thing you need to know about Artemis and vacuums is that they both suck.
And THAT’S how you do a Chekov’s Gun.
About the Author – G.M Nair
G.M. Nair possesses advanced degrees in Aerospace Engineering, but chooses to be a giant nerd and general nuisance, instead.
Not content to just gobble up content from movies, television, and comic books, he feels the need to express himself creatively, despite everyone’s consistent protests. He has written comedy for the stage and screen, while also maintaining the blog MakeMomMarvel.Com, where he watches the Marvel Movies with his judgmental Indian mother.
In his downtime, G.M. is an Aerospace and Aviation Consultant for a major multi-national consulting firm. His favorite Vampire Weekend song is “Unbelievers” and he enjoys long walks off a short pier.