Andy Weir’s latest novel Artemis looks at first to be a step back from his first novel The Martian. Set on the Moon rather than Mars, inside a moon base (Artemis) with the protagonist being a young woman who is trouble and doesn’t really amount to much in life on Artemis.
When I initially looked at this I was left wondering where this could go. For those of you that have not yet read the book I will leave out as many spoilers as I can but I am going to have to tell you something becasue otherwise what’s the point of this post?
The World of Artemis
The first thing about this book is that the clever bit is not about fancy new technology or how the humans are fighting off Moon aliens that the conspiracy theorists knew were there all along, this is mainly about how and why humans would colonise the moon. For this Andy Weir had to create a new world, society, economics and the people that would live there and why.
The first thing to note is that this human colony exists for one reason alone – tourism. Everyone that lives on the Moon is there to support an industry of people that can buy a trip to the Moon for about $70K and depending on how rich you are stay in one of the hotels in one of five habitation domes.
Along with the workers there’s the odd ultra rich billionaire that’s bought half a dome and lives a pretty decent existence… and causes a bit of trouble, Because let’s face it you don’t get billions by playing nice. In with this is Jasmine Bashara who is known as Jazz who was brought to the Moon by her father and has lived there since a child, very intelligent but good at making bad choices she runs a smuggling operation to get by. On Artemis you work for Slugs – this stands for Soft Landed Grams (SLG), one slug is the cost of getting one gram of goods from the Earth to the Moon.
Jazz wants to live a much better life and her billionaire friend makes her an offer she can’t refuse. So begins a the story of mystery and in some parts utter chaos caused by what happens next. For that I’ll let you read the book.
What’s intriguing about this is that Weir has worked out that in the process of Aluminium smelting the oxygen created could supply the colony with breathable air for the human population. So the ‘local’ smelter that processes Aluminium to sell also supply’s the colony’s oxygen in return for power for their smelter. It’s an interesting symbiosis and it reflects the fact that once we colonise space or even travel into space, partnership will be far ore important than money, money will essentially become not only redundant, but in fact a nuisance (it is anyway I think).
Society on Artemis
The final aspect of Artemis I found insightful was the society of Artemis, the person who ran it fully accepted than in any society as criminal element needs to exist for it to run. Law enforcement was far more direct and brutal and a more basic moral core existed.
Artemis to a greater degree was a free society, with few rules and part of the story hinges on how the mob took advantage of this in order to run it’s businesses and make money, this is also key to the troubles that occur in the story. There was a strong parallel to this and how mobs took over cities in the past on Earth. The society of Artemis was soon found to be threatened by similar issues and raised the question of how free a society can be without it being taken advantage of by those that are more unscrupulous.
Finally there was the Jazz – the smuggler, seen as a petty criminal and the law wanted her out of the way. But as she pointed out, the only reason there were no drug or weapons on Artemis was becasue she as the resident smuggler didn’t allow it. The power gap left if she was removed would open the door to someone else with less morals to allow anything in.
This single person, right on the bottom of the pecking order, operating outside of society had a huge influence on how the bigger society ran. That is the power of the single person and I thought it was a powerful message.
The last thing about Artemis is the possibility of an easter egg in the story – A reference to the Martian which could be there. I never found it… but if you read it and did find it, please give us a clue!