I’m planning on reading at least six fiction books and six nonfiction books this year. This continues my fiction book review series, which will be hosted on this blog. My nonfiction book reviews will likely end up on my other blog, depending on the topic.
Artemis is Andy Weir’s second novel after The Martian. It’s a fun read, and I found it primarily engaging for its setting. Artemis is the name of lunar colony some 70 years in the future. Weir takes his hard sci-fi approach that was so successful in The Martian, and applies to what a moon colony would look like with technology that isn’t too far removed from our own. Most impressive is his exploration of the economics of this small town.
It’s expensive to live in a harsh environment where you can’t venture outdoors without a spacesuit or plant crops for food, and so the book explores how the town can be economically successful. Artemis has two major industries: aluminum smelting and tourism. International treaties mean no country has a claim to governance on Artemis, and so the single law enforcement officer maintains a hands off approach. There are, of course, tradesmen and scientists in Artemis, but a vast amount of products must be imported. This leads to the de facto currency, slugs, from Soft Landed Grams, a credit that can be redeemed by the Kenya Space Corporation. Kenya, located on the east side of a continent on the equator, is in a prime geographic location to launch rockets to space (rockets launch east to take advantage of Earth’s rotation, and Earth spins fastest at the equator). A launch corporation charges by weight, thus launching a kilogram of something to the moon costs 1000 slugs. The company credits become a valuable interchangeable asset, as quick wireless credit transfers easily facilitate trade.
There’s also just interesting points the book discusses that you wouldn’t have thought about unless Andy Weir had researched it, like that they breathe mostly oxygen at 1/5th atmospheric pressure since nitrogen would be difficult and annoying to transport there, or that fire would then become a massive threat to the moon base, as anything flammable in a 100% oxygen atmosphere will burn quickly and spread. There is also a lot more than you would expect to find about welding in the vacuum of space, or about how moon dust could cause lung problems.
The story itself is also pretty fun, although I don’t want to give too much away. The book follows delivery driver/smuggler Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara as she makes her living through the grey market underbelly of Artemis. As she uncovers more of what is happening behind the scenes, you learn more about the economy the lunar town and science and technology that allow it function. There are EVA/spacewalk sequences where several characters are isolated far from Artemis out on the lunar surface, there are action sequences where criminal elements take advantage of the lax law enforcement policies, and there is even a cameo of an unidentified botanist. I would say that the while the conflicts in the story were interesting, the characters are all portrayed as fairly realistic and flawed, so much so that the moral ambiguity of some of the choices Jazz makes leave it somewhat uncertain she should really be forgiven, at least in my opinion. My largest critique would be that the book wraps everything up nicely, when perhaps in real life, an international moon colony with no real law would have more abrupt and uncertain growing pains.
Artemis doesn’t really ask deep probing questions about what it means to be human, or whether robots will replace human minds in the apocalypse; it sticks to the hard and social science questions of what human society might actually look like on the moon. It’s a quick read, but it touches topics as disparate as immigration of various ethnicities, social cohesion and the lack thereof, population dynamics, economic growth, physical construction on the moon, and biological and chemical realities of lunar living. Overall, it’s a nice exploration of these topics in science fiction, at a time when I see more stories focusing on the dark side of technology destroying our humanity, when instead we could also be asking how humanity can tackle the questions of how to explore and create on worlds outside our own.