I read a book by a white guy and I regret it.
For a while now I’ve made a conscious effort to read books not written by white men. But I’d seen enough reviews of Andy Weir’s sci-fi novel “Artemis” that when it came through my library holds I stopped what I was doing to check it out. And now I’m sad. It was exactly the kind of book I’d been avoiding: trying too hard to be edgy, featured a flat female lead, and with a diverse set of characters just to have them there.
“Artemis” takes place in the near-to-not-so-distant future when there’s a fully lived-in colony on the moon. It’s somewhat of an international nation-state with the laws of international waters, so the rule of law is up to the populace. This city, Artemis, is mostly a tourist hub, but no city can survive on tourists alone and most of the residential population ranges from crafts people like engineers and mechanics, scientists to run the life support, delivery people to handle shipments to and from Earth, and then the standard service workers like hotel clerks. The protagonist, Jazz Bashara, fits into this populace. She runs packages from shipments to people in Artemis, but of course not all of them are legal. Jazz is the standard down on her luck, deeply in debt, small-time criminal that ends up in over her head, making a lot of the the rest of the plot to follow fairly predictable. There’s the eccentric billionaire, the corrupt government official, tension with the girl’s father, and a weird amount of sex jokes.
Like I said, I’d heard good things about “Artemis,” probably because Andy Weir wrote “The Martian,” another popular sci-fi novel. Even though I haven’t read the go save Matt Damon book, but I commend Weir’s ability to build a sci-fi society. The science behind this moon city held up and for the most part he was able to explain how it all worked without sounding like a test book–– partially because of the way too casual voice of Jazz, but in this case it worked in Weir’s favor. World building is definitely his strong suit, it’s the filling his worlds with interesting people where his writing falls flat. The Washington Post’s science fiction and fantasy reviewer Everdeen Mason already put her list of worst moments in “Artemis” together, and it about sums up all you need to know.
Let’s start with Jazz. The way she’s written tries so hard to sound like a cool and independent young woman who’s done with the system, and the end result sounds so fake. As I was reading I kept comparing Jazz to Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” and all the ways both wanted to turn their main characters into the tough-talking, takes no shit protagonist. Except “Jessica Jones” was written and directed by numerous women, so when Jessica talks you listen. Jones is the perfect example of how to turn the tropes of the old noir detective into a compelling leading woman. Jazz Bashara, on the other hand, is the perfect example of what men think the ideal independent woman should sound, talk, think, and act like.
“I knew what I had to do—I just didn’t like it. I’d have to blow the remaining two at the same time. Please don’t quote that last sentence out of context.” A prime example of weird sex joke placement. In the context of the scene when this quote appears, no one would have taken this out of context. But now you did, dear narrator, so thank you for that.
The rest of the cast isn’t really that important or remarkable, which is unfortunate because it could have been an interesting ensemble. It’s noticeably diverse, Jazz and her father are from Saudi Arabia, Artemis’s head governor is Kenyan, and one of Jazz’s old friends is a gay man. That just about checks off the list. WIRED also had an interesting critique and conversation about the faults of “Artemis” that’s worth a read, they also break down the problems of of Weir’s useless “diversity.”
Some “diverse” characters who never do anything to add any sort of depth to who they are, just a few fun facts to check off some boxes. You could almost write off the lack of development as some sort of “there’s a colony on the moon, racism and homophobia no longer exist so these characters don’t need to be defined by their backgrounds.” Okay, that’s fair, especially since Artemis is a highly-advanced nation-state. But the non-white characters are written so terribly, and the gay character was introduced so terribly, that you can picture Weir physically dropping the ball in your mind’s eye.
My loan on “Artemis” ended a while ago so I’m mostly left with vague disappointment. For anyone else who’s had Andy Weir’s second novel recommended to you, I am here to un-recommend it stat. There are plenty of other sci-fi novels out there, and if you’re on the search for one I’d highly suggest you go away from the white man.