Book Review: Artemis

A review of Artemis by Andy Weir

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Andy Weir, the best-selling author of The Martian, recently published Artemis, a novel set in a small moon colony, the namesake of the book. Weir is very explicit about modeling Artemis on frontier towns. With a population of around 2000 residents, Weir dives into the social structures that keep Artemis together, hence the relation to innovative governance.

Artemis exists because Fidelis Ngugi, Kenyan’s Minister of finance, took advantage of Kenya’s proximity to the equator and created a special jurisdiction to entice space companies to locate there. The special jurisdiction, by cutting away red tape and taxes, combined with the good location, was sufficient for the investment necessary to create the world’s first moon colony.

The social structure of Artemis is similarly interesting. The residents come from a variety of countries, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Brazil are among those named. A kind of chain migration, where someone brings their cousin, the cousin brings their friend, etc, is explicitly mentioned.

Guilds dominate Artemis. There’s a welding guild, a spacesuit guild, etc. The guilds operate in the weird line between ensuring quality and existing as cartels to raise prices, though they don’t operate via force. Though the protagonist is clearly anti guild.

Laws, in the Hayekian sense, as opposed to legislation, doesn’t really exist. For example, there is no drinking age or age of consent. This is explained as necessary given the different cultures. The enforcement mechanism for both drinking and consent is the angry parents of the youth coming to enact frontier justice on the ‘aggressor’.

Power in Artemis is split between Ngugi, who is the administrator, and Rudy DeBois, the head of security. The relationship between Ngugi and DeBois isn’t clear, they have distinct roles and neither answers to the other. There is no jail, norm violations are punished by frontier justice, fines, or deportation. Serious crimes, such as murder, result in the perpetrator being deported to the country of victim.

One of the major challenges Artemis faces is generating economic activity. It is primarily a tourist destination, but for long term survival and growth, it needs to become more than that, to attract an anchor tenant, a similar challenge facing charter cities.

Few novels take seriously social organization, so it’s a pleasure to read one that does. Weir actually estimates the cost of a visit to Artemis in the appendix. In addition to the perspective on social order, Artemis is also a well written thriller. I recommend it.