This is a heist caper with a heavy dose of science added to define the parameters of the job, because it takes place on the moon.
Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is 26, and a “porter” on Artemis, the only city on the moon. For her job, she has clearance to pick up packages at the port and deliver them, allowing her to run a lucrative smuggling business on the side. She is trying to accumulate a great deal of money – in fact, a very specific amount of “slugs” as the moon currency is called: 416,922, to be exact, though we don’t learn why until near the end of the book.
But even aside from this mysterious debt, Jazz wants most of all to be rich, though she is very smart and everyone keeps telling her she is wasting her potential by her obsessive pursuit of wealth. When she is offered the job of a big heist by Trond Landvik, “one of the richest richfucks in town,” for example, and she asks him why he wants her to do it, he says:
“‘Jazz, I’m a businessman,’ he said. ‘My whole job is exploiting underutilized resources. And you are a massively underutilized resource. I’m not judging,’ he said. ‘Just analyzing. You’re really smart and you want money. I need someone who’s really smart and I have money. Are you interested?’”
At first she is not, but when he offers her a million slugs for the job, she jumps on it.
The heist will require sabotaging the robotic harvesters at the Sanchez Aluminum plant, after which Trond will be in a position to take over the operation. The aluminum market is currently not such a big deal now that the city’s pods are finished, but the plant’s smelter outside town also produces oxygen from processing ore. They not only make rocket fuel on the side, they supply the city with all of their breathable air. They also sell the CO2 to the food farms. Yet there is something more going on that has made Trond interested in this plant; Jazz can’t figure out (yet) what it is.
Jazz has a number of friends she calls on for help with the heist (most not knowing what they are helping her with), even including her email pen pal from Earth, Kelvin Otieno. On the moon she gets help from, inter alia, the best electrical engineer in town; a specialist in space walking; her father – an expert welder; and even a robot. There will be many obstacles, not even counting the very hostile lunar environment outside the protection of the city’s aluminum walls.
What could go wrong? Well, just about everything.
Discussion: Weir said in an interview he did “tons and tons of research” for this book, and it certainly shows. He wanted to make it accurate, even though the details of the heist are only secondary to the plot. He said:
“My strength is scientific knowledge — that’s what I’m good at. So that is the avenue by which I tell plausible stories. There are a million ways to make a good story, and this is just the one I’ve chosen.”
What this means however, is that, to me, while the parts about the science behind the caper clearly show his enthusiasm and excitement, I found the character-driven sections less convincing.
I appreciated his efforts to make the population of the moon diverse, and even to tackle the challenge of making his protagonist a female. But I didn’t find Jazz’s “wise-ass” persona all that convincing. She seemed more like a cigar-chomping, hard-drinking mobster than a girl who loves and respects her father, is interested in a long-term love relationship, and even seems sort of lonely – or would, if Weir delved into any of her feelings to a greater extent.
Evaluation: In spite of my quibbles with characterization, there is a lot to like about this new book from the talented author of The Martian. It’s entertaining, and undoubtedly will end up on the big screen.
Published in the U.S. by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, 2017