For my birthday, my wife gave me a very nice pair of shorts, which should last me a long time, and a copy of Andy Weir’s second novel, Artemis, which I read over the course of two days and hence hasn’t lasted me very long. So on average, well, averages turn out to be an unhelpful way to construe gratitude.

Andy Weir’s first novel was The Martian, which wasn’t so much a novel as a series of problems and resolutions to those problems that created new problems to be resolved and so on, ad infinitum. That made it quite entertaining for a while, but the fact that every character is just a cipher for illustrating a problem of biology or chemistry or physics eventually made it wearing. If it’s possible to spot the twist every single time, because every single time the twist is "you’ve narrowly escaped the jaws of death but you’re just about to die anyway lol", then it gets a bit monotonous.

Still, he’s had a New York Times bestseller off the back of this formula and a blockbuster film, so it works pretty well. Artemis sticks fairly closely to this. There’s a criminal wheeze to blow up some things for some apparent reason, that is transparently not the real reason, but that’s signposted so far in advance (partly just through virtue of this being a book by Andy Weir) that it’s hardly a surprise when it turns out that way. But again, it would be churlish to criticise Artemis for this. Nobody reads Sherlock Holmes for accurate depictions of Victorian London, and you don’t read Artemis for deep and moving exploration of the human condition.

So anyway, what about the plot? The narrator this time is a 20-something woman of Arabic extraction (literally – rocketed to the Moon as a 6 year old) who works as a smuggler and a fixer and a general dogsbody on a moonbase where each geodesic dome is named after a member of the Apollo 11 crew. She steals, she sneaks, she welds, she gets in fights and arguments and conducts another plot via emails that fades out about half way through, but saves Weir time on exposition. Because she’s not alone on the moon (unlike the narrator of the Martian, stuck by himself on Mars) there’s more opportunity for conversation and other human interaction.

And you get to learn lots of things, like what the atmosphere consists of in a lunar habitat, what temperature ice water is if you put it on a stove and heat it up, how to refine aluminium from ore, how to make industrial quantities of chloroform, and other fun stuff. Sometimes Weir gets carried away with world building when most of us probably don’t care about the excat arrangement of different fictional geodesic domes, but mostly the story proceeds at a good clip, and so I didn’t regret staying up until 1 this morning to finish it.

I didn’t even feel that it ran out of gas until probably the last pages, which is better pacing than The Martian, which was in -just-hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with territory after the three-quarter mark, so it’s good to see that even with a crew of largely wooden characters delivered on a pallet from Central Casting, Weir is capable of entertaining. So I’m happy with that. Thanks wife.

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