The book Artemis by Andy Weir is like the flavored algae that the moon colonists in the story eat, passable but it’s no gourmet meal. No matter how much chicken flavor you put on the algae (known as Gunk to the locals), it’ll never be the real thing.
As much as I wanted to love this book, and as many laughs as I had with it, it was an exercise in frustration because of its unevenness. Its highest of highs – corporate sabotage, hilarious inner monologues, “sciencing the s#&*” out of any
Martian lunar problem – were stifled by flat characters, horrible dialogue, and a third act, that while entertaining, warp speeds to a tidy convenient conclusion.
Like the book’s liquor, food, and air, the story feels reconstituted or recycled from Andy Weir’s acclaimed debut novel “The Martian”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the reader is treated to several survive-or-die scenarios in this book like those found in the other.
Jazz Bashara, our smuggler and supreme smart-ass, is the most well-developed character with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but as far as her character arc, it could be summarized as “hustle harder to make more money and move up to a nicer moon apartment.” Her current living arrangement is nicknamed the coffin for its size.
The story attempts to depict a frontier town on the moon, but the handful of half-dome structures that make up the town along with a desolate moonscape are the entire setting. Realistic, maybe, but it’s a bland backdrop that doesn’t really feel complete.
The story at face value is a cool concept with heartwarming moments and some great MacGyver on the Moon situations, but the character relationships are uneven, which made me care only half the time. (I liked the dad, Dale, and Svoboda, and others grew on me (Ngugi, Rudy), but others were wasted (The Landviks, Sean, Chu, Sanchez, Bob).
The good stuff? Weir is extraordinarily strong in his science writing and weaves it seamlessly into the narrative, making for fun action scenes that are the life of this tale. I’m glad to have read it just for these moments: Sabotaging a moon rock harvester in an EVA suit where one screwup means death? Check. Using a remote control bot to illegally open airlocks for you? Check. Putting out moon fires, starting moon explosions, and rolling your moon rover to escape said explosion? Check. The finale, which I won’t ruin, is nuts and satisfying – it creates a true heroine out of Jazz.
I recommend reading this for the fun of it and getting an idea of what you can expect as a tourist on the moon (no drinking age!). Don’t let the shortcomings prevent you from taking this wild ride. Verdict: 3 of 5 stars
Bonus: Poking fun at “The Martian” – “Only an idiot relies on duct tape to maintain a pressure seal, but I didn’t have a choice.”
“The trick with Gunk is to steer clear of stuff trying to taste like other stuff. Don’t get the “Tandoori Chicken” flavorant. You’ll just be disappointed. Get “Myrtle Goldstein’s Formulation #3.” That’s good s*&%. No idea what the ingredients are. It could be termite carcasses and Italian armpit hair for all I know. I don’t care. It makes the Gunk palatable, and that’s what matters.”