Andy Weir's best-selling novel "The Martian" told the nail-biting story of Mark Watney, an astronaut left behind on Mars. As played by Matt Damon in the film version, Watney was the epitome of a nerd-bro MacGyver.
In his new book, "Artemis" — already a bestseller — Weir sends us into space again for what is mostly a high-paced heist novel. This time, he tries his hand at writing a heroine: Jasmine "Jazz" Bashira. Jazz lives on the moon city of Artemis, where she works as a courier helping get smuggled goods to people.
Jazz is a Muslim and a Saudi, but she never sounds authentic. Frankly, she might as well be Mark Watney.
Instead, one gets the sense that Weir is marking off a diversity checklist. Despite a few nods to cultural conflict, there's little indication of what life would be like for a young Muslim woman in the world he created.
Here are five sets of lines that sent this reviewer back to the bookshelf to look for something better:
1) Jazz picks up contraband from a longshoreman. The man, Mr. Nakoshi, asks her what's inside the box.
"Porn mostly, starring your mom," Jazz says. He snorts.
(This dud scene is meant to establish her as one of the guys.)
2) Jazz picks up an item from a sort-of friend, who tries to pressure her into testing his reusable condom invention.
"The city shined in the sunlight like a bunch of metallic boobs. What? I'm not a poet. They look like boobs," Jazz observes, as no woman would.
(Why do all the men in this book assume Jazz is a loose woman?)
3) Jazz decides to dress as a traditional Saudi woman to scope out the scene of anupcoming heist.
"Okay, you can stop pretending you know what a niqab is," she says to no one in particular.
(The city of Artemis is supposed to be diverse, with a significant Muslim population. Is Jazz speaking to people on Earth? People of a different time? Other Artemis dwellers who should know better?)
4) To break into a hotel, Jazz is compelled to dress as a prostitute. This gives her yet another chance to refer to her hot body.
"Sure, I have a nice body, but I wish it had been a little more effort to become so trashy."
(Jazz is supposed to be a confident woman, but the description is incredibly awkward and unnatural. What woman would describe herself this way?)
5) The novel is filled with people nagging Jazz about her alleged promiscuity. Jazz mostly goes along these cracks, while assuring the reader that she probably doesn't sleep around that much. Then come the cringeworthy teenage boy jokes.
" 'You may be used to taking shots in the face, but I'm not,' he said. Okay, that was a good one."
(Narrator: It wasn't.)
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy each month for The Washington Post.
By Andy Weir
Crown. 305 pp. $27