Why doesn’t Artemis work?
I really enjoyed Weir’s first novel, The Martian, but his sophomore Artemis falls flat.
The Martian had simple, but realistic and likeable characters. Mark Watney was not Falstaff, but that was OK – it was a book about science and space travel, with Watney and his crew in the background. Still, I liked Watney, I wanted him to win, and he deserved to win. Artemis, in stark contrast, had the worst of both worlds: Shallow and unlikeable characters who made bad decisions, whose emotionally turbulent inner lives were front and centre.
Jazz, the protagonist of Artemis, is similar to Mark Watney in many ways: She’s smart, light-hearted in tense situations, and has a cheesy sense of humour. I liked these traits in Watney, so why not Jazz? One theory I have is that this sort of character only works when they’re completely isolated. Watney cracking bad jokes to himself when he’s all alone on Mars is fun, but when Jazz makes pointless wisecracks to her friends in the middle of a life-or-death, every-second-counts scenarios, it makes her character less intelligent, and less realistic.
And it’s not only Jazz. Most of the characters in Artemis consistently make bad or unrealistic decisions. Contrast with The Martian, in which Watney and his crew are all pretty sharp.
I didn’t hate Artemis – I actually read it in one sitting. Good world-building, a good plot, and mediocre characterization. I think it’s worth your time if you loved The Martian, but give yourself the gift of low expectations before you read it.