With The Martian, Andy Weir pulled off a singularly neat trick, slathering a serious hard-science pill in the chunky peanut butter of popular fiction. His 2011 debut, originally self-published online, went on to become the kind of best-seller that blankets airport bookshops, earned Matt Damon an Oscar nod for the blockbuster movie adaptation, and is even used in school curricula to turn reluctant students into proud space nerds. How you feel about his follow-up, though, will probably depend a lot on how much you enjoyed his talky, utilitarian style of left-brained storytelling the first time.
Much like The Martian, Artemis takes place in a near future where a barren planet (not Mars this time but the moon) has been made habitable and features a wildly resourceful first-person protagonist with an acute fondness for F-bombs and off-the-cuff MacGyvering. Nominally, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is entirely different from astronaut Mark Watney: She’s Saudi Arabian, defiantly self-educated, and of course, female. Though those things are only strictly true because Weir says so; his character traits are effectively a thin skin stretched over narrators who feel less like recognizable human beings than fun, unusually chatty lawn-mower manuals with physics degrees.
Unlike Mark’s lonely planet, Jazz’s moon is populated: a sort of galactic Wild West where the digital currency is called slugs, the basic food unit is a Soylent-like substance known as gunk, and a clever girl can earn her keep running contraband (butane, ethanol, Dominican cigars). When an eccentric Norwegian billionaire enlists her to sabotage a local smelter, the pay is irresistible, but the price when it goes badly is much more than she’s bet on. Weir has an undeniable gift for bringing NASA-level knowledge down to earth; you may not close Artemis’ pages feeling particularly enriched or awed by the wonders of the cosmos, but at least you’ll know exactly how to weld an airlock in lunar gravity. B-