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The Criminal Kind


By Andy Weir 

21 Nov, 2017

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2017’s Artemis is a standalone hard-SF novel by Andy Weir.

A century after the first Moon landings, Jasmine Jazz” Bashara is living proof to the other residents in the lunar city, Artemis, that sufficiently poor judgment can lead to many exciting adventures. There may, however, be a hard limit to how long one such miscreant can survive on the unforgiving Moon.

Stubbornness and spectacularly poor taste in lovers set Jazz on the fast track to self-loathing and a hand-to-mouth existence. She becomes one of the handful of career criminals in Artemis. The only reason that she has not been deported to her native Saudi Arabia is the failure of the lone city cop, Rudy DuBois, to persuade the rest of the city that Jazz is bad news. 

Desperate to earn enough money to make amends for past transgressions, Jazz cannot pass up a payday of a million slugs”1, even though she knows that the job she is offered — sabotaging Sanchez Aluminum’s fleet of remotely-piloted tugs on behalf of ambitious billionaire Trond Landvik — is dangerous and perhaps impossible. Or perhaps simply a suicide mission. But … the job offers some interesting technical challenges. Money + challenge: it’s more than the twenty-five year old can resist.

Jazz’s cunning plan is almost successful. Too bad. Not only did her attempt fall one truck short of the success needed to qualify for that million slug payday, the way in which it failed drew the authorities’ attention to the fact that it was sabotage. Bad news for someone who happens to be DuBois’ Usual Suspect. 

Landvik’s brutal murder is the first hint Jazz gets that her attempted property crime has angered people who believe in firm, unambiguous response to transgression. A killer is looking for her. If Jazz is to escape the killer and evade DuBois, she will have to find out just why Landvik wanted to sabotage Sanchez Aluminum and just who decided to kill him. 


I’d like to start by saying it’s a relief to see a book where the protagonist is not lavishly praised for solving a city-threatening crisis that they themselves caused (assisted by some incredibly bad design on Artemis’ part; maybe they should embrace the idea of a planning bureaucracy, at least to the extent insuring a single point failure cannot incapacitate the entire city.). Jazz does come out well ahead by the end of the book so perhaps the moral is muddled2.

If there’s something decades of British cozies have taught me, it is that being the only known criminal in a small town has the upside that while said criminal will invariably be the first person arrested after a crime, they’re generally cleared of said crime by the local spinster, interfering cleric, or crime-solving monarch. In fact, a season or two of such police failure raises the question of why, if the local criminal is invariably innocent of every crime of which they are accused, they ever achieved the status of Known Criminal. Artemis answers that question.

As Brookmyre did in Places in the Darkness, Weir opts to have the local Usual Suspect actually be guilty of many of the crimes for which they are justly suspected. DuBois’ reflexive suspicion of Jazz is not unjustifiable paranoia, but the voice of long experience. The main reason Jazz has not long ago been consigned to life on Earth is because she has been protected by people who should know better.

Just as The Martian was a modern example of the well-established Castaway On Mars story, so too is Artemis is a modern example of the near-future hard-SF novel, albeit one that borrows from the A Simple Plan crime-novel genre (so it’s also an example of the First Crime of Its Type IN SPACE” subgenre.). Artemis is the usual sort of vaguely libertarian moon colony, able to thrive because its mother nation, Kenya3, rejects the red tape that sabotaged other nations’ space efforts. Law enforcement is an informal affair, consisting in large part of DuBois’ brutal assaults on those of whom he disapproves, constrained by the local administrator’s whims. 

Although Weir makes concessions to modern sensibilities by allowing women significant roles and by staffing his community with a diverse population, Artemis is a perfectly stock hard-SF novel, from its dated SF references, to its cheerful embrace of, um, shall we say informal methods of dispute resolution,” to the way that Kenya has oddly elected to name all of the domes in its colony after American astronauts. Another trope to add to the list: the socially inept nice-guy horndog who, the novel strongly hints, will win Jazz’s heart despite having not much to recommend him beyond the one man in her life who is: 

  • not overtly cruel;

  • not interested in minors; 

  • not only attracted to other men; 

  • not the cop who is trying to kick her off the Moon (hottie though he is); 

  • not a murder victim;

  • not her father.

I didn’t like this novel as much as my editor did. I did think it was to some extent salvaged (well, aside from the merciful total absence of the term helium‑3”) by the fact that the viewpoint character is extremely unreliable. She does not deliberately lie to the reader4, although she does withhold some details for dramatic purposes. It’s just that a lot of the plot is driven by the fact that Jazz is a small-town hick cursed with bad judgment. Jazz is not stupid but her intelligence is very narrowly focused. I did end up caring about what happened to her, but I was more interested in what she wasn’t telling me and what she didn’t know. All the pleasure of a whodunit, plus WELDING ON THE MOON.

Artemis is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: The Lunar monetary unit. Readers looking for a mollusc-based economy must look elsewhere.

2: Yeah, yeah, spoilers. The book is told after the fact by Jazz herself. The odds that she would die before the end of the book were not zero, but they are very small.

3: Readers may wonder Is this a near-future novel in which Africa’s last decade of sustained economic growth is in any way acknowledged?”

There are no unions or guilds at KSC. It’s a special administrative zone and the normal laws that help unions don’t apply. KSC has a lot of power in the Kenyan government. There are many special laws for them. But KSC is a boon to all of us and they deserve special treatment. Without them we would be poor like other African countries.

Not so much. 

4: A question I always have when I read stories told in first person is who the author intended the protagonist to be addressing. It isn’t really clear to me who Jazz is relating her story to. Perhaps it’s chapter one in How I Became the Kingpin of the Moon. Perhaps it’s the beginning of the Do Not Do This Cool Thing cautionary bedtime story she tells her kids. Perhaps it’s the yarn she spins to the angry mob at her door shortly before they re-enact The Black Donnellys on the Moon.