Sophomore books are a bitch and a half, man. You’ve got literally your entire life to get that first book written and ready to go and completely 100% perfect, right? And then if your first book is a big hit, you’ve only got at most a year or two to get that sophomore effort out the door. Some authors end up with a second effort that is every bit as brilliant as their first: I point at April Daniels, whose Dreadnought and Sovereign I both read in 2017 and… well, wait a few weeks to see how well those turn out. Or somebody like Kevin Hearne, whose first three Iron Druid books came out in something like six months and were somehow all of equivalent high quality.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ernest Cline, whose second book was so bad that it called my high opinion of his first into question, highlighting every single weakness of his writing and somehow diminishing both books. We kinda want to avoid that.
Andy Weir’s The Martian was a brilliant book; my favorite book of 2014. I talked the other day about the annoying similarities Martian and my own Skylights have, and the fact that I plan at the moment to follow up Skylights with a book involving the Moon, and, well, so did fucking Andy Weir. So it’s kind of hard to review the book entirely independent of my own shit, right? I know I’m not on remotely the level that Weir is, obviously, and that most of this shit’s only in my head, but I don’t want copies ideas from more well-known authors as a thing that’s hanging over my head.
Well, here’s the good thing: other than being set on the moon, Artemis doesn’t have a damn thing in common with what I have planned for Moonlight. Not a single damn thing. The cover is also annoyingly similar to the cover I put together for the book, years ago, which really pisses me off because I still love that cover and I may not be able to use it now. But I’ll worry about that once the damn thing is written.
But anyway: is the book any damn good? Well, there’s a reason I started this piece the way I did: while Artemis is is not as good of a book as The Martian was, and the places where it isn’t as good kind of are things that show weaknesses in The Martian, it’s still a really solid effort. In some ways it’s a very different book; the main character is a female, at least nominally Muslim smuggler, which one would think would be a very different person from corn-fed Iowa botanist Mark Watney.(*) And the thing is, she’s not. She’s Mark Watney in niqab. And since Mark Watney was basically Andy Weir, as he’s admitted in reviews… well, so is Jazz Bashara. And while Watney’s constant science-and-chemistry talk made sense in-book, as he was trying to keep himself alive, Jazz’s kind of feels forced. Like, I know she’s on the Moon, but so is everyone else in the book, and the constant science asides don’t work as well.
That said, I’m a huge astronomy geek, so while it bugs me on a craft level it’s fascinating on a bunch of other levels, which kept me from disliking the book. I liked Artemis, but I absolutely didn’t love it, and after his first book owned 2014, that can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment.
(*) Okay, maybe he’s not from Iowa. Maybe he is? That sounds right. I’m not looking it up. He’s sure as hell not a Muslimah.