The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 1 December 2017


by Andy Weir

Following on from his phenomenally successful novel The Martian, Andy Weir brings us to the surface of the Moon in about fifty years, to the well-established frontier colony of Artemis, a city of two thousand subsisting on tourism and a dwindling aluminum smelting operation. Our protagonist and narrator is a young Saudi woman who was raised on the Moon. Her father is in the business of metal work and welding. Artemis is her home. Young Jasmine lives a little on the edge of the law. She is a porter, carting stuff around the small city and bringing in shipments from Earth. This, of course, also gives her and opportunity to smuggle contraband to the Moon. And, given the special circumstances of a lunar colony, contraband is everything from a book of matches to unauthorized mining equipment. Jasmine's operation limps along quietly, as she tries to amass a very specific sum of "money" (Money, on the Moon, is based on units of transferrable mass from the Earth.). Meanwhile, the tourists marvel at the "magnificent desolation" of the Moon, cavort in its low gravity, and take selfies at the pristine Apollo 11 landing site.

As with The Martian, one of the main virtues of this novel is its dedication to scientific plausibility and propulsive adherence to the risks of living in space. On the Moon, what would be the most precious comodity? The air, of course. And the sense of security offered by a double-hulled sphere that shields you from the Sun's radiation and the utter vacuum of space. The air is provided by the aluminum smelting operation, one byproduct of which is an endless supply of oxygen. But things are more complex than that. The economics of the situation are precarious. Artemis has reached a plateau of population and production. Delivering a box of cigars to a local magnate, Jasmine learns of a mysterious item called ZAFO. When she is asked to partake in a rather large sabotage operation, everything seems to hinge on ZAFO and what it means for the future of Artemis. Weir describes this in engaging detail. Even Jasmine appears to notice when the expositon slows things down.

And, as with The Martian, all sorts of things go wrong for Jasmine along the way. The story moves by its technical oddity, what it could really be like to live on the Moon and to live within a certain vision of mankind's future? Weir's vision is imaginative and convincing. There are few holes in his picture of life on the Moon. It's social context is somewhat more vague, as are the mechanics of a regular service to and from Artemis. But that's OK. This is an entertaining and fast moving adventure, a kind of Wild West caper. It doesn't quite have the engrossing quality of Weir's previous novel. For one thing, it is much more heavily populated, and some of the characters are conveniently cooperative to Jasmine's story. Jazz herself is spunky and profane, likeable but edgy. She reads a bit like a nerd's dream date, but she's a solid companion for this story. In the end, the book remains a fun (and occasionally informative) journey.

(Artemis is the name of the Greek goddess of the Moon. It is also the name of many other things, including the present ARTEMIS mission, two satellites currently in orbit around the Moon, studying its interaction with the solar wind and Earth's magnetosphere.)

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Also by Andy Weir: [The Martian]

[Other Science Fiction and Fantasy books]