My Winter Reading List got off to a strong start in December 2017 with Artemis (Andy Weir’s follow-up The Martian) and The Wrong Stars (Tim Pratt’s tale of ancient alien artifacts). My progress was hampered by breaking my ankle, but what really derailed it was my re-read of Ready Player One in anticipation of the movie of the same name.
Artemis (Amazon) is Andy Weir’s sophomore novel, and it reads like it. Following up on the success of The Martian, Weir decided to write a heist novel set in Artemis, the late 21st century’s one and only lunar city. The protagonist this time around is Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara , a young woman who grew up on the moon in the shadow of her strict-but-fair Muslim father.
Too smart for her own good, Jazz choose to strike out on her own, making the sort of bad life decisions that lead her living paycheck-to-paycheck as a porter and sometimes smuggler. The later activities bring her into contact with Trond Landvik, a billionaire with a scheme to take control of the moon’s primary oxygen producer (technically, he wants to get control of the satellite’s aluminum producer; oxygen is just a byproduct of that process).
The novel’s shares the sort of technological geekery that made The Martian such a fun read, but Weir’s attempt to branch out and feature a female protagonist from a different cultural background doesn’t work. He makes a good faith effort to be sure, but Jazz often reads like a female version of Mark Watney, right down to the wise-cracks.
The book’s a decent read and I loved the technological bits, but it doesn’t re-capture The Martian’s magic. Like Armada, Ernst Cline’s follow up to the engaging Ready Player One, it feels like Weir is trying too hard.
The Wrong Stars
Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars (Amazon) presents its answer to question of why we’re alone (or in the case of The Wrong Stars) in the galaxy. By some estimates, the galaxy should be crawling with alien civilizations, or the remains there of. Yet, we are confronted with the Great Silence and the unending quiet of an indifferent universe.
In the universe of The Wrong Stars, things aren’t as quiet as in ours. Humanity encountered the Lairs, an alien race that appears utterly incapable of telling the truth. After humanity’s failed attempts to send intergalactic seed ships to other star systems, it was the Lairs who gave us access to new stars and new worlds to colonize.
But then something unprecedented happens: one of the centuries-lost seed ships returns to our solar system, strangely modified from it’s original configuration. The ship is found by the salvage ship White Raven in trans-Neptunian space. The White Raven’s crew — the sort of ragtag band that’s been popular since Firefly— investigates the ship, finds its sole survivor, and inadvertently snag themselves on the first thread of a galactic mystery.
It’s a good read that answers the question of the Great Silence while setting up a sufficiently troubling galaxy-wide threat.
Ready Player One
While my winter reading list had potential, after I broke my ankle I found I needed some good ol’fashioned escapism. That’s exactly what Ernst Cline’s Ready Player One (Amazon) is. Sure, buried in its pop-culture references is a message about accepting the real world over the fantasy one (a point driven home much harder in the movie than in the book) but at it’s core its a 1980s nostalgia fantasy for 40-something geeks.
I re-read it as part of a project I’m calling the Ready Player One Replay, in which I play all of the video games mentioned in the novel. I made some serious progress on the project while I was still in my cast, but once I moved onto the boot — and became more mobile — it slipped onto the back burner. Even without completing the project, re-reading Ready Player One was an excellent distraction from my real-world broken ankle situation, and it was a great way to get ready for the release of the movie of the same name.
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Cover art for Artemis. Credit: Crown Publishing.