Andy Weir Aims To Duplicate His Martian Success With 'Artemis'Weir returns to a successful formula in his new book — action and adventure in space, with a snarky voice and plenty of reader-friendly science — though this time the story moves to a moon colony.
Andy Weir's debut novel, The Martian, was an unrepeatable success story, largely because its path to the bestseller lists was so unconventional. Weir posted it as a free serial on his website, then self-published it as a 99-cent e-novel. His Kindle sales led Podium Publishing to create an audiobook version before a physical edition existed. Crown Books bought the print rights years after the Kindle edition launched. By the time it became a bestseller, a film adaptation starring Matt Damon was already in progress.
Weir's meticulously researched adventure, about an astronaut struggling to survive alone on Mars after a disastrous mission, came to readers' attention in fits and starts over the course of years. There's no way to duplicate that process — especially since Weir is no longer an unknown author, giving away his work online because he can't get publishers' attention.
But his second novel, Artemis, does repeat The Martian's formula in other ways. Once again, Weir has set an action-adventure in space, where a resourceful protagonist improvises scientific solutions to escalating dangers. The brisk pacing and reader-friendly explanations of chemistry and engineering conundrums are similar. And for better and worse, the protagonist's snarky, hipshot, goofy voice is much the same as Mark Watney's in The Martian.
This time, the action happens in Artemis, a moon city of 2,000 that revolves around tourism and heavy industry. The protagonist, Jasmine Bashara, is a 26-year-old Saudi Arabian citizen who's lived on the moon since she was 6. Jazz grew up in a hustle-and-flow environment loosely adapted from a blend of Earth cultures, with its own ad hoc economy and laws. She's a professional porter and smuggler, hoping to become a tourist guide. But an equipment malfunction sabotages her chances at official certification, and her dreams of lucrative tour-guiding fizzle out. When a contact offers her an astronomical sum to sabotage a local mining operation, she reluctantly takes the job, making enemies she can't afford to make.
Like The Martian, Artemis is blunt and simple, with characters dumping exposition on each other in graceless speeches or convenient pen-pal letters. The characters are thinly sketched vehicles for action and information — from a grifter billionaire to an indomitable mining supervisor, they're all roughly similar bantering smartasses whose primary personality traits are "in Jazz's way" or "helping Jazz out."
Artemis' environment should be more vibrant and complicated than The Martian's, yet the dynamic is exactly the same. Few of the characters have distinctive voices, and some who do are cringe-worthy, like the Hungarian neighbor who informs Jazz, "You were nice little girl. Now you are bad. You are unmarried and have sex with many men." Or the socially awkward engineer buddy who keeps saying things like, "You're my only friend with boobs!" Artemis' take on sex in general is juvenile and foregrounded; Weir seems to know a lot more about low-gravity welding than about how 20-something women think about their bodies and partners, and Artemis' residents have a curiously prurient fixation on Jazz's love life, which mostly comes up in sneering jibes.
But the book has the same strengths that made The Martian so compelling — Weir's palpable fascination with the rigors of life in space, and his devotion to scientific accuracy, which lets real-world facts drive the plot. He has a talent for setting up nerve-racking threats requiring jury-rigged solutions, which keep Jazz rushing from one crisis to the next. In keeping with the book's matter-of-fact storytelling, characters keep flatly telling Jazz she's brilliant and talented. But that comes across more believably when she's contriving a clever way to disable an aggressive remote-controlled rock harvester, or open a jammed valve from inside a sealed environmental bubble.
Weir is well aware that he's unlikely to reproduce The Martian's incandescent success. In self-effacing interviews, he's said he's fine with people dismissing Artemis as "not as good as The Martian," as long as they enjoy the new book. That certainly seems likely: Artemis is a breezy, propulsive read that makes pages of detail about fiber-optic cable resistance and Moon-sediment composition seem integral. But Weir also says he'd like to develop Artemis into an ongoing book series, and that's a harder bar to clear. If he wants his world to be worth exploring in that kind of depth, he's going to have to make his characters as rich and startling as the dangerous worlds they live in. Until his character beats come as naturally as his scientific ones, he's unlikely to eclipse his first breakout success.
Tasha Robinson is the Film and TV Editor at The Verge, Vox Media's technology and culture site.