Review by Mark Palm.
It astonishes me how many writers and readers underestimate the power and the utility of transparent prose. Everyone, myself included have gushed about the eloquence of Nabokov and Faulkner, etc, and rightly so. These writers have the ability to make prose sing and soar. In some works, particularly in the field of thrillers and science fiction, the most important job of prose is to convey actions and describe events in such a way as they can be understood. Stephen King once said in defense of transparent prose, and I am paraphrasing, that the best way to prove its usefulness would be this: if you want to appreciate transparent prose, a writer should describe how to drive a stick-shift to someone who does not know how and then sit in the passenger’s seat of a car and let that person drive.
All of this preamble is important to understanding and appreciating Andy Weir’s latest novel, Artemis.
The heart of this book is Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a twenty-six-year-old woman who has lived most of her life in Artemis, the only city on the Moon. It’s a wonderland for rich tourists and the elite of society, but most of the two-thousand or so permanent residents are support staff, and Jazz is one of them. Their lives are tough, and Jazz, a porter, can barely make the rent on a cubicle not much bigger than a closet. So she also smuggles in harmless contraband for some extra income. Then one of her richest and most trusted clients offers her a job that will net her a lot of money, but requires her to commit a crime far more serious than she is used to. One, that if she is caught will get her imported back to Earth. Not only is Artemis the only home she has ever known, but exile to Earth could very well kill her. The cash is too tempting, and Jazz takes the job. That is when things begin to go really wrong.
Mr. Weir’s gift for the transparent prose of which I spoke earlier really steps to the fore here. The author seems to have an instinctive grasp of how to unravel a twisting plot while explaining a bevy of complicated technology without slowing down the breakneck pace of the action. And once the action starts Mr. Weir never take his foot off of the petal until the explosive climax which melds action, intelligent planning and a ton of clever science that makes one proud to be a geek.
I really enjoyed Jazz, though I could understand how some folks might not. She is a genius without drive and immature wise-ass that only tries really hard when she is breaking rules or protecting the people for whom she cares. I found her a living character, but unfortunately, she was one of the only ones in the novel. Everyone else, almost without exception, was either a type or advanced the plot. It seemed like Mr. Weir could not find a way to put himself in their shoes because Jazz was also the only character whose dialogue seemed fresh and funny. Although this does not cripple the story it does take a bit of the shine off because it’s hard to care for the people that Jazz does when they don’t really feel alive.
Still, when all is done, I found Artemis to be a success. Mr. Weir’s ability to mix excitement and adventure with solid believable science and tell a gripping story is quite an achievement. If he can get a real grasp on character and dialogue there is no telling what he can do. I can’t wait to see.