When I first watched the movie version of The Martian, I had no idea that it was based on a novel. I also didn’t know that the author of that novel, Andy Weir, had first published The Martian in chapters on his blog, then self-published it on kindle, before seeing it rise into a successful work of fiction and adapted into a movie a few years later.
That’s definitely a crazy ride for any aspiring author, and I think The Martian is such a beautifully crafted work combining science, adventure and sentiment that Weir deserves all the strong praise he has received for it.
When I received an ARC of Artemis on Net Galley, I decided to read both books by Weir back-to-back and I think that may have been a mistake. Unfortunately, for all of the strength of The Martian, Artemis felt like a definite sophomore slump to me. Read my full reviews below to find out why.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Publication Date: February 11th 2014
Published By: Crown
Length In Hardcover: 369 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.4
previously published on Kindle)
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
The excitement. I didn’t expect to be as on the edge of my seat as I was reading this book because after all I had seen the movie and therefore knew the entire plot, including the ending. Weir really does a masterful job of stringing the reader along from crisis to crisis and getting us invested in Watney’s fate, so that even knowing the plot, The Martian was still a page turner for me. The story is so imaginative and so full of twists and turns (sometimes to the point that you think Jeez! this guy really can’t catch a break), that I was glued to the page. The ending is actually slightly different in the novel I believe and felt more plausible than in the movie, which was a plus.
The science felt realistic. I’m a science aficionado but not a science expert, and my knowledge of the physics and chemistry of Mars was basically zero before going into this book. I wouldn’t actually know, therefore, if the science that Weir uses throughout the novel in showcasing Watney’s ingenuity is actually valid. What I can tell you is that is sounded very well considered and convincing to me. The experiments and initiatives Watney conducts are complex and thoroughly explained, so that you’re left with the feeling both that the author extensively researched the material and that his interpretations are credible. It really added to the solidity of the reading experience that I wasn’t questioning the science at every turn.
Shifts in focus between Mars and Earth. I definitely enjoy novels that shift between points of view and settings in different chapters, and also ones that provide mock primary artifacts like the logs and journals in The Martian to make the narrative feel even more realistic. Weir did an excellent job in keeping the reader engaged and invested in Watney’s destiny by interspersing sometimes slightly monotonous Mars chapters with others that grounded the events in the reader’s actual experience. It was particularly interesting to hear about the PR challenges faced by NASA in dribbling out information to the public about Watney’s setbacks and opportunities for survival. I felt that in showing humanity’s point of view of the situation through the NASA scientists and a few scenes involving the other astronauts on Watney’s team balanced the solitude of Watney’s experience on Mars.
Main character felt somewhat caricatured. This was my main issue with the novel and the reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 stars. Not only was it crystal clear that this book was written by a male author, but it often reeked of machismo in a weird cowboy-ish way. Watney’s character feels pretty nuanced in the movie version, and I think the director chose to show some of the moments in which the protagonist falls into despair and depression to counterpoint his can-do attitude. These instances are really only hinted at by Weir in the novel, and the book version of Watney therefore comes off as having gumby-like unassailable self-confidence and a bombastic cheerfulness that at times is truly jarring compared to what a more subtle portrayal of the character could have been.
This is an action-packed adventure that effectively mixes hardcore science and a human element. It will keep you turning the pages, whether you’ve watched the movie or not, to ‘find out’ what happens next.
Artemis by Andy Weir
Publication Date: November 14th 2017
Published By: Crown
Length In Hardcover: 305 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.77
Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.
The worldbuilding was convincing. For his second novel, Weir chose the Moon as his setting and placed the first Moon-city, Artemis, at the center of his narrative. The technical descriptions of Artemis, from its actual shape made up of multiple domes, to the composition of these domes, the functioning of the air supply system to the city, the division of the domes into ‘neighborhoods’ and their cramped feeling all felt realistic. I especially appreciated that Weir took the time to think about the social implications of a permanent Moon settlement, explaining the politics and economics of it, what led certain characters to opt for a life on the Moon and what ties they still had to life on Earth.
The plot was entertaining. I am going to preface this by saying that the story line in Artemis was by no means as well fashioned as that in The Martian. However, the death-defying heists that Jazz gets herself mixed up in are entertaining in a popcorn kind of way. Though I wasn’t invested in her character, there was enough action and subterfuge to the plot to keep me wondering what would happen next and whether Jazz would or wouldn’t survive by the end of the novel. A few of the scenes had a similar suspense to some of the more nail-biting scenes in The Martian, and Weir even throws in a couple chase scenes in Artemis that, despite feeling a bit like filler, can still propel the readers interest forward.
The main character. I appreciate a male author who chooses a strong, independent heroine for his novel – a young woman like Jazz who can get herself out of scrapes and use her ingenuity to support herself. Unfortunately, Jazz’s character just didn’t work for me. It was so blatantly obvious that this was a female character written by a male author, and at times I felt that Weir just transplanted Marc Watney’s personality into Jazz ,rather than bothering to figure out what a realistic woman of her age would have thought and felt. Her sense of humor was ‘masculine’, her reactions had the same machismo to them that I saw in Watney and overall there was just no subtlety to her. Weir also showed his hand by basically portraying Jazz as a nymphomaniac, constantly making boob and sex jokes, like all of us women do all the time after all. Not so much.
Fell short of expectations. I really struggled with whether to give this novel 2 or 3 stars, because I felt it really disappointed me based on what I was expecting from the author, having literally just finished The Martian. The science in Artemis felt significantly more far-fetched and less well-researched than in The Martian at times, almost like it was rushed. Weir fell back on long descriptions of welding procedures time and time again in the plot, which felt mind-numbing at a certain point. Considering his heroine is a teenage woman, he should have considered that the likely audience for this novel would not have loved endless descriptions of welding. I appreciated Weir’s blatant efforts at including lots of diversity (of gender, ethnicity and sexuality) in the novel, but because he barely developed his secondary characters, the diversity felt jammed in there to make a point rather than organic to the novel.
I would consider this a 2 star read for myself, but a potential 3 star read for others. It’s entertaining – that’s it main strength – so go into it without expectations and just looking for a fun action-packed story set on the Moon.
From Goodreads. Andy Weir built a career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing fulltime. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California. Andy’s next book, Artemis, is available now.
Have you read either of Andy Weir’s novels? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous Author Spotlights on Novels And Nonfiction you can find them here:
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository. Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for the copy of the novel they provided in exchange for an honest review.