Artemis, Andy Weir (Crown 978-0-553-44812-2, $27.00, 320pp, hc) November 2017.
The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt (Angry Robot 978-0857667090, $7.99, 400pp, pb) November 2017.
How do you follow-up on a runaway success like The Martian? If you’re Andy Weir, you go to the moon.
Artemis, his sophomore story, takes place in the titular habitat on the moon. The plot revolves around Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a porter/smuggler who is getting by as best she can in a challenging economy. It’s all about the slugs, which are the Moon unit of currency. Each slug is the equivalent of one gram of cargo moved from Earth to Artemis. That detail isn’t important to the functioning of the story – but it does give you a sense of how thoroughly Weir has crafted his universe.
What you loved about The Martian, you’ll also love about Artemis. Jazz is whip-smart and can engineer her way out of any problem, and there are plenty of problems that need her attention, some of which she created. You know that, in the end, she will likely live to fight another day. This isn’t a spoiler; it’s baked into Weir’s general can-do spirit.
That’s the problem, really. There are stakes – Jazz ends up fighting to save the lunar life as she knows it – but we know that even when the odds seem the most bleak, they will tip in the hero’s favor. It’s hard to tell, however, if this is a feature or a bug. Still, Artemis is a brisk, enjoyable read, with a kick-ass female protagonist who feels real, rather than a creation of a male writer’s most fevered dream.
Tim Pratt, who has been a finalist for the World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, and has won the Hugo, knows how to write a solid fantasy, both under his own name and a few pen names. The Wrong Stars is his first venture to clearly cross the fantasy border into science fiction land. The journey is an unevenly successful one.
Callie is the captain of The White Raven, a space ship whose crew makes its living in Trans-Neptunian space. They do a little salvage work, a little skip tracing, and a little quasi-sanctioned policy enforcement with a little light violence. The story opens with Callie and Ashok, her mechanically augmented crewmate, boarding a seemingly abandoned ship to see both if anyone needs a rescue and if there’s anything onboard worth selling.
Turns out both of those things are true. The Raven team has stumbled upon a “goldilocks” ship, which was flung from Earth 500 years earlier and loosely aimed at a planet that looked like it might sustain human life. But there is no reason why that ship would still be in our solar system five centuries later – with, as it turns out, just one body in its cryopods.
Then, as you’d expect, the mystery deepens. The Liars, an alien species which is, at best, quirky, have given us all kinds of neat tech, including some that opens the universe to us, and they take an interest in something found on the goldilocks ship. So much interest that this normally not at all murdery bunch decide to kill for it.
The Wrong Stars is a perfectly serviceable story, full of adventure, gumption, and banter. You can feel how much Pratt loves his main characters, which is a problem. The band Blues Traveler has a great line in their song “Runaround” about “a bad play, where the hero’s right and nobody thinks or expects too much.” The Wrong Stars is related to a ’90s jam band in only that way: All of the heroes here are right and good and fair, especially Callie, whose gut instinct always proves true. While that’s a great trait to have in real life, it doesn’t make for fiction you can’t put down.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the December 2017 issue of Locus.