I read Andy Weir’s Artemis in the span of a short flight over the North Natuna Sea, and it is a sci-fi heist/crime thriller set on the moon, in its first human settlement. After Mr Weir’s The Martian, I have hungered after more stories featuring genius McGyvers solving their problems using the power of science. It is competence porn, and it scratches the same itch as reading a Sherlock Holmes story does. The antihero protagonist, Jazz Bashara, is certainly the smartest guy in the
room moon colony, and indeed, I actually thought she is a guy until the book indicated to me that she is a woman of Saudi origins. After that, it became jarring how frequently Jazz references her girlhood, as if to convince herself she is one.
There are two ways to look at Jazz Bashara. On one hand, it’s great that Weir wrote a female person of colour as the main character and gave her essentially no characteristics one would expect from a Saudi woman (or any woman, for that matter). Why should anyone’s personality be defined by their gender or race at all? Isn’t this a feminist ideal? At the same time, it is still jarring to see Mark Watney’s 14-year-old teen boy’s sense of humour grafted onto an adult Saudi woman who lives on the moon. While I generally enjoyed Watney, I can’t say the same for Jazz, and I think my problem with her can best be summed up by Gillian Flynn’s now notorious “Cool Girl Monologue” from Gone Girl which I’ll reproduce here partially:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.Gone Girl (2012) by Gillian Flynn
Jazz Bashara is a “Cool Girl”. There is no point in which she felt like a real woman. She felt like the textual equivalent of a blow-up doll covered in Mr Weir’s dried seminal fluid. She often references her own (attractive) physical attributes. She slut-shames herself in what was suppose to pass as self-deprecating humour, and she makes fratty sex jokes constantly. She is practically designed to appeal to men, while still being “one of the boys”. Here is a sampling of lines from the book:
I groaned like a teenage girl.
My plan was working! I giggled like a little girl. Hey, I’m a girl, so I’m allowed.
Billy, I’ve swallowed better-tasting stuff that came out of people.
The biggest time sink was when I had to run and hide from the debris. 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.
At one point, without meaning to, she was in her underwear and wearing nothing but a male friend’s T-shirt when he walked in on her, presumably because Mr Weir (and a lot of men) finds that sexy. She also allows that male friend to constantly sexually harass her without any consequences. Here is an instance of it:
A thought struck me. “Did you watch me strip on [the] video feed?”
“Yup! Thanks for the show!”
… All right, all right,” I said. “…Consider that payment for all the favors you’re doing me.”
Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I think Artemis really shines when the story delves into the sci-fi bits. Mr Weir’s conception of a human city on the moon is quite inspired, and it felt like he had thought up of every aspect of lunar living down to how the habitable domes were designed to as radiation shields, why and how the moon produces aluminium, oxygen and glass, or how the lunar currency is tied to the cost of freight in sending things to the moon from Earth. I am also tickled that the moon settlement is called Artemis, who is actually the Greek goddess of the moon (not Apollo, which was what NASA named their moon mission). Coffee on the moon apparently tastes “disgustingly cold” since water boils at a lower temperature there because their interior is kept around 20% of Earth’s atmospheric pressure because they use 100% oxygen in their life support system thus maintaining the partial pressure of oxygen for respiratory exchange of human lungs—I drink all these tiny details up. While the heists depicted in the book are not terribly complex or convoluted, I also very much appreciate the scientific minutiae that Mr Weir injected into Jazz’s schemes and the obstacles Jazz faces. How does one ignite welding equipment in the absence of an atmosphere? How does material behave when there is no air for heat convection to occur? How does—you get the picture. Jazz’s attitude to everything calls to mind what Watney said in The Martian:
I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.The Martian (2012) by Andy Weir
If you are a science nerd, you’ll still find a lot to love (and learn) in Mr Weir’s Artemis in spite of the artificial charisma of his main character and the insipidness of the supporting cast. If you find the science stuff boring or overwhelming when you read/watch The Martian, there is nothing in this book for you at all.