- - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ARTEMIS

By Andy Weir

Crown, $27, 320 pages

You can count on an Andy Weir novel to be out of this world. He took us to the Red Planet in his phenomenally successful, mind-blowing debut novel, “The Martian.” Now, in his second one, “Artemis,” he sends us to the moon.

What makes “Artemis” interesting is what made “The Martian” so special: Andy Weir brings to the science fiction genre boundless passion for science he combines with a gift for making it entertaining and easy to understand. His science fiction is every bit as much science as it is fiction, giving it extraordinary authenticity.

It’s sure to be an enormous best-seller and already the same filmmaking team that adapted “The Martian” is readying to adapt “Artemis.” But if you’re expecting “Artemis” to be as good as “The Martian,” expect to be disappointed. Granted, very few could measure up, but this one doesn’t come close.

Artemis is mankind’s first and only city located beyond our own planet. Named after a Greek goddess whose domains include the moon, it’s located in the Sea of Tranquillity region of the moon near where Apollo 11 touched down and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two persons to set foot on the moon.

It’s a tourist destination — the “in” place to visit for the extremely wealthy and a popular adventure-of-a-lifetime choice for many others. Its tourism-centered economy supports a permanent population of some 2,000.

Artemis is a complex of five sphere-shaped, multi-storied, domed buildings called “bubbles,” each as deep below surface as it is high above, all connected by tunnels. To save precious space it has hallways rather than streets. It also has resort hotels, casinos, theaters, restaurants, boutique shops and even luxury apartments. For workers who keep the city ticking and those who service needs of the tourists there are living quarters varying in amenities.

Because it’s on the moon, everything to do with Artemis must be hermetically sealed — the city complex, vehicles, space suits, the Apollo 11 Landing Site Visitors Center and the train that shuttles tourists to and from it on a half-hour ride, etc. Any exiting to or entering from outside is through airlocks.

As the story opens, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a 26-year-old Saudi Arabian woman who’s lived on the moon since age six, spectacularly fails a critical test to qualify for the good-paying job she desperately needs, and nearly dies, because she neglected to properly inspect her space suit.

Next we see her as an amazingly brilliant person constantly demonstrating advanced scientific knowledge and skill, solving every perplexing problem confronting her — all this without even the slightest formal education.

Huh?

In “The Martian” we cheered for a very likeable young man stranded alone on Mars and were kept in suspense as he struggled to survive and return home. The main character in “Artemis” is lazy, nasty, callous, selfish, unscrupulous and barely able to speak without being senselessly vulgar.

Just as amateurishly annoying, the author seems to be offering up this one as some sort of gift to the gods of political correctness. “The Martian” had a male protagonist — so give “Artemis” a female one. How about having the guy who jilts her doing so to be with his boyfriend? And don’t forget to include a Muslim element. Somehow, transgendered got left out.

Working as a lowly porter and living in the least desirable housing, each a consequence of her refusal to apply herself, Jazz Bashara’s story is her scheming to switch from working in low-level crime to supplement her meager standard of living to trying her hand at some major crime as a way to get rich quick.

There’s little suspense — so easy to guess what’s coming. Characters, including the main one, are one dimensional, dialogue is of poor quality and some of the attempts at humor come across as barely more mature than juvenile potty humor. Painfully slow in first third, it gradually picks up until toward the end you might begin thinking that despite its many flaws, it was sufficiently entertaining and certainly informative.

What makes “Artemis” interesting and worth reading is that Andy Weir does such a truly amazing job explaining how the challenges of constructing a city on the moon could be overcome, showing what such a lunar colony might look like, and describing what living there would be like. This author can make science dazzle most anyone.

Here’s a thought: How about some non-fiction books by Andy Weir about science and space? Few others can make science and space come alive the way he does, and his reputation for this pretty much guarantees massive sales. He and his publisher should find this a natural. So should readers.

Fred J. Eckert is author of the “Hank Harrison for President” (Vandamere Press).

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