Artemis

ArtemisArtemis, Andy Weir

Artemis, Andy Weir’s second novel, takes place a little closer to home than The Martian, but not very.  The novel takes place in the first (and so far only) city on the Moon, the titular Artemis, a necessarily small society that subsists primarily on tourists. Our protagonist, Jazz, is a brilliant, stubborn 20-something woman who lives at the edge of society and dabbles in illegality, who gets pulled into one big score. It turns out to be more than she bargained for, and she’s between forces in a massive and terrifying conspiracy, and needs a band of plucky friends to save the day—you know the drill.

Artemis was an entertaining enough read, but the book doesn’t play to Weir’s strengths. The Martian didn’t have the most creative of plots—someone is trapped, others must save him—it was told in a creative way.  Weir did a massive amount of research to make (most) of the science work in The Martian and managed to make it interesting. The book was basically describing how someone else solved a massive Odyssey of the Mind puzzle, and it takes skill to make that as readable, entertaining, and fun as The Martian was. Hard science fiction is still Weir’s strong suit, and when he veers into that, discussing the mechanics of how Artemis exists, or even the combination of scientific reality and economics that made Kenya rich by building Artemis and are driving the conspiracy, are incredibly compelling.

The problem is that Weir then decides to try to make this more of a story, with a complicated plot and characters interacting with one another and all that and, well, to be generous he could use a bit more practice. The plot was sort of a standard in-over-your-head criminal type thing, which is fine, but not revelatory. And the story clearly owed a debt to several places. The plot, as mentioned, was a standard one. Much of it could have been tracked down a path on TV Tropes.*  As could the characters. And the main character, for me, got to be a bit grating. I think Mark Watney would get to be a bit much after a while, but at least we had a break from him every now and again. Jazz is the only narrator. Her voice is all we get. And it was exhausting.

And now is the point where I defend Andy Weir, even while agreeing with some of the criticism. Weir has gotten a lot of flak for the way he wrote Jazz, with people complaining that he couldn’t write a female character. Firstly, I appreciate that Weir tries to make his worlds diverse, plenty of men and women in both, and he includes multiple races and ethnicities. It might not always work, but it does feel that he is trying authentically. And I give him much credit for writing a female protagonist, something that would never even occur to a large number of male authors, especially in the sci-fi space. So major credit for that.

Then there is this. Everyone being critical of the way Weir wrote Jazz needs to recognize that Jazz is basically Mark Watney, but with a few changes. Weir is not bad at writing female characters. Weir is not great at writing characters. Period. There is no shame in this for a sci-fi writer! Asimov was one of the greats, but read anything beyond a short story and its clear his strength was science and stories, not individuals. Heinlein married a chemical engineer and was famously supportive of women’s equality and liberation, yet if you read his books you’d swear he never actually interacted with a woman. In fact, go read the classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (to which Weir clearly owes a debt, even though his moon society is quite different) and tell me any of those characters are more realistic.

Artemis isn’t as amazing as The Martian, but it was still an entertaining read and I breezed through it in the afternoon. It’s as worth your time as whatever standard action movie you were going to pick up to watch. But Weir’s talents lie in the hard science and problem solving and big picture sci-fi stuff. Here’s hoping he figures that out for book three.

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The Martian

the-martian-by-andy-weir-r-1000x1000The Martian, Andy Weir    

There are often times in life where I have to explain something to a group, and I’m struggling with how to get started, or to condense a complex topic down to a few power point slides. And as I’m trying to figure out how to do this and playing online, I realize that xkcd has already done this, and so much better than I could ever hope to do.

 

 

the_martian_2x

So. Yeah, that’s a fairly good description of this book. This is an excellent piece of science fiction, with a hard emphasis on the science. I first read this book because I heard an interview with the author on a science podcast I listen to, and the author was hilarious and incredibly interesting. Andy Weir even talked about the challenges he faced running simulations of interplanetary travel at different points in the future to make sure the possible orbits he was discussing would happen at the proper times as he wrote in his book, and that the rocket flights would be mathematically correct. That is a nerdiness and attention to accuracy of which I am in awe.

For a hard science book, The Martian is also a very easy and enjoyable read. For those of you who don’t know the background yet, it takes place in 2035, when Martian missions are relatively new but semi-routine. One mission requires an emergency evacuation and astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is accidentally left behind. The rest of the book is dedicated to Mark Watney staying alive, and the crew and NASA trying to save him. (Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon in the movie, leading to a wonderful breakdown of how much money the world has spent rescuing Matt Damon. Roughly US$900 Billion, adjusted for inflation).

The way all of the problems are solved in the book are wonderful. If you like McGyver, or that one scene in Apollo 13, if you’ve ever done Odyssey of the Mind spontaneous problems, you will love this book. The way that NASA realizes that Watney is still alive is one of the best points, in my opinion, but everything about how he keeps himself alive, builds and rebuilds life support systems, was wonderful. And even when things go wrong-and lots of things go wrong-it was interesting and realistic. (If you didn’t read the alt-text on the xkcd cartoon, it states “I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you’ve just bricked something important because you didn’t pay enough attention to a loose wire.”) It also made me consider how absolutely amazing it is that we have ever been to space. Everything, absolutely everything, has to go right, or everything immediately goes wrong.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys hard science fiction, anyone who enjoys suspenseful novels, and anyone who enjoys a fun beach read. I finished in two days; someone without kids can probably do it in one.  It’s not that the book is perfect, the author admits that in a few places he had to take some liberties with the science in order to make it workable. He just ignored how radioactive being in space is, for instance. But most of it is pretty accurate, and the whole book is a fantastically fun read. If you missed it the first time it went around, you should probably pick it up today.

                                     

The Martian

the-martian-by-andy-weir-r-1000x1000The Martian, Andy Weir

There are often times in life where I have to explain something to a group, and I’m struggling with how to get started, or to condense a complex topic down to a few power point slides. And as I’m trying to figure out how to do this and playing online, I realize that xkcd has already done this, and so much better than I could ever hope to do.

 

 

the_martian_2x.png

So. Yeah, that’s a fairly good description of this book. This is an excellent piece of science fiction, with a hard emphasis on the science. I first read this book because I heard an interview with the author on a science podcast I listen to, and the author was hilarious and incredibly interesting. Andy Weir even talked about the challenges he faced running simulations of interplanetary travel at different points in the future to make sure the possible orbits he was discussing would happen at the proper times as he wrote in his book, and that the rocket flights would be mathematically correct. That is a nerdiness and attention to accuracy of which I am in awe.

For a hard science book, The Martian is also a very easy and enjoyable read. For those of you who don’t know the background yet, it takes place in 2035, when Martian missions are relatively new but semi-routine. One mission requires an emergency evacuation and astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is accidentally left behind. The rest of the book is dedicated to Mark Watney staying alive, and the crew and NASA trying to save him. (Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon in the movie, leading to a wonderful breakdown of how much money the world has spent rescuing Matt Damon. Roughly US$900 Billion, adjusted for inflation).

The way all of the problems are solved in the book are wonderful. If you like McGyver, or that one scene in Apollo 13, if you’ve ever done Odyssey of the Mind spontaneous problems, you will love this book. The way that NASA realizes that Watney is still alive is one of the best points, in my opinion, but everything about how he keeps himself alive, builds and rebuilds life support systems, was wonderful. And even when things go wrong-and lots of things go wrong-it was interesting and realistic. (If you didn’t read the alt-text on the xkcd cartoon, it states “I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you’ve just bricked something important because you didn’t pay enough attention to a loose wire.”) It also made me consider how absolutely amazing it is that we have ever been to space. Everything, absolutely everything, has to go right, or everything immediately goes wrong.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys hard science fiction, anyone who enjoys suspenseful novels, and anyone who enjoys a fun beach read. I finished in two days; someone without kids can probably do it in one.  It’s not that the book is perfect, the author admits that in a few places he had to take some liberties with the science in order to make it workable. He just ignored how radioactive being in space is, for instance. But most of it is pretty accurate, and the whole book is a fantastically fun read. If you’ve avoided it so far, definitely grab it now.