Andy Weir's debut novel took the Robinson Crusoe idea and stuck it on Mars for a nerdy spin. Think of his follow-up, Artemis, as a sort of The A-Team meets Ocean's 11, transplanted to the moon.
The protagonist in this book is about as far as you can get from The Martian's Mark Watney. While the latter was the prototypical all-American hero, Jasmine Bashara is pretty much an anti-heroine. A super-smart underachiever, Jazz is also Arabic, with a devout Muslim father, and a small-time smuggler on the moon's only city, Artemis.
The story kicks off with Jazz failing, in spectacular fashion, to pass her examination to join the EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild.
Things go from bad to worse as she decides to accept a not-so-legal freelance assignment from the moon's richest tycoon, Trond Landvik. Landvik has a complicated money-making scheme that needs to be set into motion with Jazz committing an act of industrial sabotage. But before you can say man on the moon, Murphy's law kicks in - Jazz is thwarted mid-sabotage, Landvik is murdered and the Brazilian mob gets involved.
The pleasure of reading Artemis lies in watching Weir build a satisfyingly convoluted Rube Goldberg narrative structure. There are a lot of moving parts in this plot and each bit fits into another with well-oiled ease that does not feel forced. This is quite an achievement, considering Weir has to keep multiple balls in the air.
One of which is setting up the mechanics of the city of Artemis. One of the best things about The Martian was the way in which Weir's nerd-like glee in scientific details (life cycle of potatoes! the chemistry of generating oxygen! the physics of energy!) powered the plot. The same attention to detail has gone into depicting the workings of Artemis, from its physical infrastructure to the social implications of its tourism-led economy. And similarly, the plot twists here hinge on numerous details about Artemis' inner workings.
Del Rey/303 pages/Books Kinokuniya/$27.10/4 stars
There is the rollicking adventure story as Jazz evades the town sheriff and a mob assassin while trying to fix the wrongs in her life, which you will probably enjoy the most on the first roller-coaster read through. B
ut what holds up in a second reading is the meticulousness with which Weir has built this miniature world. There is his engaging portrait of Artemis as a booming frontier town built from the chutzpah of the city's administrator Fidelis Ngugi, a Kenyan visionary and pragmatist whose no-nonsense rule bears no small resemblance to Singapore's own founding fathers' iron hand.
There is also, given Weir's reputation for scientific accuracy, a ridiculous amount of science shoehorned into the story. The shocking thing is that the science is actually fun to read as well as being integral to plot developments.
The multicultural cast of characters, which includes Nordic hackers, Vietnamese maintenance crews, Latino engineers as well as a good proportion of smart women, is also a pleasure. Here is hoping Hollywood will not whitewash the cast when the inevitable movie adaptation gets picked up.
If you like this, read: Andy Weir's The Martian (Crown, 2015, $18.95, Books Kinokuniya), an entertaining science-spiked tale about an astronaut, who gets stranded on Mars, after a mission goes awry and has to figure out how to signal for help and survive till he is rescued.