Artemis, the latest from The Martian author Andy Weir, is an aggressively fine book. It’s a perfectly competent paint-by-numbers heist caper with a perfectly likable heroine and a perfectly readable, breezy voice, all adding up to a perfectly fine reading experience. Two days after I read it, I remembered very little of its plot, and if you asked me how it was, my default response would be, “Oh, fine.”
But there are a few moments when Artemis elevates itself out of the workmanlike competence that otherwise keeps it ticking along like perfectly fine clockwork. Whenever Weir gets to go into the nitty-gritty of a science fiction engineering problem — how to ignite a blowtorch in a vacuum, how to weld aluminum in low gravity — Artemis lights up and briefly becomes deeply, profoundly compelling. That’s because Weir is a process nerd, and processes are what truly interest him; by extension, when he dwells on process is when the book becomes truly interesting.
Artemis‘s plot provides the framework for engineering thought experiments
Jasmine Bashar — Jazz for short — has lived on the moon colony Artemis since she was 6 years old. She’s a porter who makes just enough money to rent out a coffin-size living compartment, and she supplements her income with petty smuggling, sneaking boxes of fine cigars to the wealthy few who can afford to live lavishly on the moon.
Jazz is saving up for a special, mysterious purpose — so when one of her regular customers offers to pay her millions if she can help him pull off something a little more criminal, she jumps at the chance. All she has to do is help him sabotage the anorthite harvesters owned by one of Artemis’s aluminum factories.
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