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Fly me to the moon – ‘Artemis’

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Few debut novelists achieve the kind of success that Andy Weir did. “The Martian” was one of those books that captures the collective imagination. From Weir’s self-publishing of the novel in 2011 to Crown Publishing’s purchase and re-release of the book in 2014 to the commercially and critically triumphant 2015 film adaptation, “The Martian” has been wildly successful in every way.

But then the question becomes: What next?

For Weir, it’s “Artemis” (Crown, $27). The author’s sophomore effort is another near-future sci-fi offering; this one is set a little closer to home. Rather than survival on Mars, we’re looking at a city on the moon. One thing that hasn’t changed – Weir’s propensity for smart, smart-aleck protagonists and a feasibly constructed eye toward the science side of science fiction. And while this second effort might not reach the heights of “The Martian,” it soars plenty high in its own right.

Jasmine Bashara – Jazz to her friends – lives in Artemis, the sole city on the moon. She’s one of just over two thousand residents; it’s not a big city, even though it took big dreams (and big money) to bring it to life. It’s a place with a unique manufacturing sector and a thriving tourism industry. It’s a phenomenal place to be rich, but not so great for the poorer folks.

Jazz isn’t rich.

She’s a hustler, making her living on the fringes. Ostensibly, she’s a porter – a glorified delivery person – but she’s aiming for something more, an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) license that will authorize her to officially and legally venture beyond the city’s domes. She’s also a smuggler, the primary source of all contraband that comes into the city. It is in that capacity that she finds herself recruited by one of Artemis’s eccentric billionaire residents to engage in something a little more illegal (and a lot more difficult) than she’s used to. It’s a big, risky job, but if she can pull it off, she’ll be set for life.

It doesn’t take long for complications to arise – complications unlike anything seen in the entire history of Artemis. Jazz quickly discovers that there are forces at work behind the scenes of the city – some good, others sinister. She’s left to reconcile with abandoned friends and erstwhile enemies, with no notion of who she can truly trust; she’s the only one who can cobble together a coalition that might stand a chance in staving off the complete collapse of her beloved city in the sky.

“Artemis” has a lot going for it. It has the same sort of zippy adventure vibe that made “The Martian” such an engaging, page-turning read. It invites the reader to consume it in big chunks, with a constant sense of the kinetic. While the constant motion can occasionally get to be a bit much, for the most part, it serves to captivate, keeping us in its high-speed orbit.

Weir’s great about the introduction and understanding of scientific concepts – a skill he wields with aplomb in “Artemis.” It’s not like you’re not getting a treatise on atmospheric dynamics or gravitational differentials or vacuum-based chemistry; instead, enough detail is sprinkled throughout that an additional layer of plausibility develops. That extra layer can do wonders for the impact of sci-fi – near-future stuff in particular benefits from that manner of realism.

One could argue that Jazz is a bit of a Mary Sue – SO brilliant, SO clever, SO cool – but Weir handles that sort of character better than most; Mark Watney in “The Martian” was much the same. Jazz manages to be interesting despite her seemingly across-the-board exceptionalness; yes, she’s quick with a quip and often proves capable in ways that strain credulity a bit, but she also has a few flaws and issues baked into her character. They’re not much, but they’re (mostly) enough.

It doesn’t hurt that “Artemis” is ultimately quite funny, both situationally and in terms of dialogue. Weir’s got a knack for a specific brand of dorky humor; it’s not for everyone, but if you dig it, odds are that you’ll REALLY dig it. That humor – combined with the attention to detail – is where “Artemis” really shines.

“Artemis” has its flaws. There are moments when Weir loses his way in terms of writing his female lead; there are a couple of head-scratching moments with regards to Jazz. And the propulsive nature of the narrative occasionally means that some nuance gets lost along the way.

In the grand scheme of things, however, those flaws are fairly minor – there’s enough humor and heart in “Artemis” to overcome a few issues. We’re talking about an engaging and interesting piece of genre fiction. No one straddles the line between hard and soft sci-fi quite like Andy Weir does; that balance makes his work a ton of fun to read.

“Artemis” might not land on Mars, but making it to the moon is still pretty impressive. 

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