For his first novel, the 2011 blog-turned-book-turned-movie The Martian, Andy Weir selected a major character who was fairly just like himself: a white man who loves science. For his follow-up, which got here out on November 14, Weir needed to strive one thing totally different: Artemis follows Jazz Bashara, a 20-something girl of coloration who lives on the primary (and solely) metropolis on the Moon, the place she, nicely, moonlights as a smuggler.
Basically, Artemis is a lunar sci-fi thriller, and it arrives at a excessive level in cultural moon lunacy—entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are infatuated with the concept of settlements there, and startups like Moon Specific see Luna as a base for additional spaceward journey. And in accordance with Stephen Hawking, humanity ought to in all probability relocate to the Moon to flee Earth’s impending doom. However is Weir’s imaginative and prescient of future lunar life—significantly because it issues Jazz and different minorities—actually a greater place to reside?
Sarah Scoles, Science Contributor: I listened to the audiobook model of The Martian whereas driving from California to North Carolina in 2015. Simply as major character Mark Watney’s crew was getting pummeled by a mud storm on the Purple Planet, I used to be (child you not) plowing my Kia right into a ground-level pink cloud on the California-Arizona border. I believed, “I. am. Mark. Watney.” And, in that coincidental second, I felt extra related to Mark than I did to Jazz all through Artemis. Which is shocking as a result of whereas I reside neither on the moon nor Mars, howdy, it’s I, a human girl on earth who is aware of a technical factor or two, like this Jazz (though, admittedly, she’s a a lot better smuggler). I used to be excited on the premise of a woman-headlined, high-profile sci-fi novel, however issues didn’t prove like I anticipated.
Justice Namaste, Editorial Fellow: I undoubtedly have quite a bit in frequent with Jazz. In my twenties, not sure about what to do with my life, normally broke. However about 50 pages in, I observed a phrase that felt somewhat bizarre, and as I stored studying, I began to choose up on a sample.
Early within the guide, in a letter to her pen pal Kelvin, Jazz refers to herself as “gentle brown.” Weir tells us Jazz is of Saudi Arabian descent, and implies that she was raised Muslim, however is now not working towards. Now, I’ve been a light-skinned black girl my total life, and whereas I’ve heard loads of individuals consult with themselves as “light-skinned” and even “gentle,” I’ve by no means heard “gentle brown” earlier than. This was the primary time I observed what quickly became a sequence of references to race that felt pressured and awkward.
Scoles: Weir does word, within the acknowledgments, that he requested ladies for assist in tackling “the problem of writing a feminine narrator” and “[making] certain the portrayal of Islam was correct.” However some blind spots appear to stay.
Namaste: Like originally of the guide, Jazz makes an offhand reference to Artemis’s racial make-up, in a method that suggests everyone seems to be on the identical footing. However just some pages later, she additionally mentions that profession demographics are based mostly on race: “Aside from me and Rudy, everybody within the room was Vietnamese. That’s sort of how issues shake out in Artemis. Just a few individuals who know each other to migrate, they arrange a service of some type, then they rent their associates. And naturally, they rent individuals they know.”
There isn’t essentially something incorrect with this, nevertheless it’s one of many few instances that ethnicity is talked about within the guide. Jazz is launched as Saudi Arabian early within the story, however then her ethnicity appears to vanish from view—besides in her conversations together with her father and different Saudi Arabian of us within the welding trade. Nonetheless, even these minimal references to racial dynamics make it clear that Artemis is a spot (like each different place) the place race influences each private relationships and societal dynamics. The issue is that the guide would not overtly acknowledge that.
Scoles: Alternatively, the reader by no means forgets that Jazz is a girl. Instance: “I giggled like somewhat woman. Hey, I’m a lady, so I’m allowed.” In an interview with SyFy Wire, Weir mentioned, “I’m definitely not attempting to make some extent by having a feminine lead….She doesn’t encounter any distinctly ‘feminine’ challenges….And the story takes place in a future society the place there’s virtually no sexism.”
The guide does painting highly effective, clever feminine characters (I believe the ruthless head of the colony is fairly rad), and passes the Bechdel Check. However then additionally, certainly one of Jazz’s boyfriends has intercourse with a 14-year-old woman, and that’s allowed as a result of “totally different cultures have totally different sexual morals, so Artemis doesn’t have age-of-consent guidelines in any respect.”
This pseudolibertarian perspective towards intercourse legal guidelines mirrors Weir’s hands-off stance towards placing severe matters in his fiction. Weir has acknowledged greater than as soon as, in interviews about Artemis, that he means no politics by all of it. “[My stories] haven’t any subtext or message,” he instructed The New York Instances. “For those who suppose you see one thing like that, it is in your head, not mine.”
However, at the very least in some modes of literary criticism and consumption, authorial intent—on this case, Weir’s need for our apolitical comprehension—issues by no means. The textual content stands alone, and means to every reader what it is going to. And I, for one, suppose consent legal guidelines and, say, the black markets through which Jazz operates, are political.
Namaste: I believe that remark will get at one of many key points—no matter whether or not Weir meant to make Artemis a “political” guide, selecting a girl of coloration as his major character made it unattainable for the story to be not noted of conversations about gender and race.
Weir’s remark about Artemis being a society with out sexism feels just like race-related concept of “color-blindness.” You’ve in all probability heard the argument earlier than, when somebody says “I solely consider in a single race: the human race.” The concept behind that is that for those who don’t see racial distinction, you may’t probably uphold inequality. Nonetheless, many students argue that by refusing to acknowledge when racial discrimination does exist, color-blindness truly helps programs of racial inequality.
Scoles: Alternatively, Artemis focuses continuously about Jazz’s gender and intercourse exploits, in a method that appears meant to telegraph that Artemisians are past sexual stigma. However then there are moments like this one, when Jazz is speaking to her father’s colleague: “You have been good little woman,” the colleague says. “Now you’re unhealthy.”
“Okay…,” responds Jazz. “Look I need to discuss to you about one thing—”
“You’re single and have intercourse with many males,” says the colleague. Jazz then notes, to herself, that the girl’s son has intercourse with many males.
This interplay says to me that maybe males having numerous unwed intercourse (even queer intercourse) is okay. However not a lot for girls.
Namaste: And in the identical method Artemis is probably not the sexually liberated atmosphere it passes itself off as, maybe Jazz is just not the sex-positive function mannequin she is assumed to be. Positive, Jazz likes intercourse, and he or she’s comfy speaking about it, however is that actually all it takes to have a progressive view on intercourse? I imply the notoriously sexist concept of “locker room discuss” checks each these containers. It looks as if this characterization of Jazz assumes that sexually progressive ladies strategy intercourse in comparable methods to males, when actually intercourse positivity is about having a wholesome and nuanced perspective in direction of intercourse, a depth that Jazz appears to lack on this story.
Scoles: After which there’s the entire subplot involving the star scientist, Svoboda, her companion in crime. I’d say Jazz is top-dawg within the dynamics most of their interactions, and their relationship is mutually useful. However Svoboda agrees to assist Jazz with technical challenges—if she agrees to check his newly invented reusable condom in trade. As a result of, , Jazz has a whole lot of intercourse, whereas he’s a nerd and unhealthy with ladies.
Namaste: Jazz is the quintessential “cool woman” (in any other case often known as the “woman who’s one of many guys” or simply Jennifer Lawrence)—a “Manic Pixie Dream Woman”-adjacent trope. Creator Gillian Flynn laid out an ideal description in Gone Woman. Regardless of Jazz’s embodiment of this trope, she can also be proven as a quick-witted smuggler whose scientific data and talent to improvise will get her out of all types of jams.
Scoles: OK, so we are able to agree: Sexism exists on Artemis. So does racism, nevertheless it’s barely ever talked about. Artemis appears to over-emphasize the function of gender (say, with the fixed mentions of Jazz’s intercourse life), whereas virtually utterly avoiding discussions of race.
Namaste: This can be a pure results of color-blindness. For those who don’t consider race is vital, or for those who consider that differentiating individuals alongside racial strains is unhealthy, it is smart to principally keep away from speaking about race in a significant method. There’s a phrase for this lack of dialogue: erasure. He does create a society through which individuals are of various races, which is a step in the suitable path. And other people from a wide range of ethnic teams have energy, and work together. However the guide glosses over these interactions, and the way race would possibly inform them, and inform individuals’s identities, in a method it doesn’t gloss over, say, the physics of explosions. Whereas Artemis’s science and tech are fleshed out, the guide may spend comparable time enjoying out how earthly social points would possibly play out on the moon.
Scoles: Weir handles what I’ll eloquently name “queer stuff” (I can say that as a result of I’m homosexual, which is a joke that can illuminate itself in a second) with comparable lack of nuance. Jazz’s ex-boyfriend, Tyler, left her for a person named Dale. Dale helpfully explains the next: “Tyler’s homosexual, Jazz. Homosexual as Oscar Wilde carrying sequins strolling a pink poodle with a tiara on his head.” This defines “homosexual” as “tired-ass stereotypes.” However it’s OK! As a result of a homosexual character says it.
Later, the bartender (affectionately?) calls Dale an “arse bandit.” Usually, when Dale is round, Jazz makes certain to tell us that, hey, always remember, he’s the homosexual one, homosexual AF, intercourse with males, doesn’t like ladies, nope, by no means. Jazz is mad that Tyler left her for Dale (truthful sufficient, though her relationship together with her closeted boyfriend was in all probability not on agency long-term footing anyway), so she herself could also be extra apt to say his orientation. However it (and mentions from different characters) land incorrect, like if my associates mentioned, “Good to see you, homosexual pal,” once I walked into the room. I wouldn’t like that, have been I right here or in Artemis.
And in Artemis, Weir ginned up a society full of various races, queer individuals, and a reliable, artful, mouthy, sensible, impartial, sexually uninhibited feminine character. And that counts for lots. However the world may have been constructed and written to do one thing deeper. To not comprise a “political message,” however to acknowledge that even in Moon Land, life and race and gender are complicated. Let’s all admit that these things is ingrained in all of us, and the artwork we create displays it, after which that artwork displays again on society.
Namaste: It makes me surprise: Why make her a girl of coloration in any respect? Why not simply write a white man? Saying that these elements of id don’t actually have an effect on who Jazz is means that ethnicity, faith, and gender can simply be slapped on high of an already-formed character, and that they aren’t truly integral to her id improvement and character arc. Since Artemis is already on its technique to being made right into a film, that is an space the filmmakers must make sure to deal with with nuance. As a result of personally, if life on Artemis has the identical social points as we do right here, I’d somewhat save my money and keep on Earth.