Artemis by Philip Palmer

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Artemis by Philip Palmer

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: Palmer's seemingly endless imagination, combined with an interesting narrative and a very high pace, makes for one heck of a read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: December 2011
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841499451

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With every novel, Philip Palmer is going from strength to strength. I've not always enjoyed his writing style, but his eye for a story is wonderful and his imagination is seemingly endless. Every time I open one of his novels, I wonder when he will find the limits of his inventiveness and it's never that time. Artemis is no exception to that rule.

Artemis is written as the thought diary of Dr Artemis McIvor, presented here for publication. She starts by breaking out of prison, before taking revenge on her former lover and betrayer Daxox and then joining the Government to help them win a war. It sounds quite simple put like this, but Palmer's strength has always been in the detail with which he fleshes out a relatively simple idea and he's certainly done that well here.

I've criticised Palmer's writing style in the past, as his way of switching between characters in an almost chick-lit style hasn't always sat well within the science fiction genre. Here, the narrator is entirely Artemis, so there is just a single point of view, which I feel works so much better. Even better is that, because the novel is presented as her thought diary, there are a number of digressions and tangents, which work wonderfully as she wanders away from her subject, occasionally hauling herself back, sometimes not. There are some touches of humour as she checks herself and some interesting roads to follow when she doesn't.

The format also allows for some amusing asides by the supposed editor of the book. I've read books where the footnotes can get rather annoying after a while, particularly in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, but here they add something. There are some snide comments and some sniping between characters which are also quite fun, but it is the addition of this editor who provided me with the moments in the book where I actually laughed aloud.

These moments are a welcome addition, as Artemis' life is largely one of violence. This often makes things unpleasant, but it does keep the pace of the story very high. Artemis' habit of shooting off in her mind in various different directions – occasionally all at once – also assists with the pacing. Her thought pattern can be sometimes chaotic, but this is part of the enjoyment and, indeed, the editor's footnotes, as well as providing amusement, are often the only chance the reader gets to pause and draw breath.

If there is a downside, it comes later in the book when we are introduced to a couple of characters from Palmer's debut, Debatable Space. As someone who has read that novel, this was like bumping into an old friend you've not seen for ages, but for a newcomer to Palmer, the lack of explanation and the suddenness of their appearance may leave the reader feeling that they're missing out on something. For me, this was only a minor hiccup, but even I felt as if I'd been shaken out of the moment slightly and it was a little while before I settled down to the idea of having them there.

Mostly, however, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Palmer's creative ability isn't as wild here as when he was creating aliens for Hell Ship, but he's still managed to come up with some wonderfully inventive ideas. The whole character of Majalara proves that he's not lost his touch in that regard and he's still got some great ideas in how to allow a character to meet their demise, with the mis-flitting accidents being my personal favourites.

Artemis is another great read and another step forward for Philip Palmer. Viewing it alongside Debatable Space shows exactly how far he has come. Whilst that wasn't a bad book, he has nearly everything right here, with narration and pacing both spot on. It's a shame there was that minor bump with the sudden appearance of a couple of characters without introduction, but by and large, this was a smooth journey.

For more of Palmer's work, as well as assisting with some of the characters here, check out Debatable Space. For another Artemis, try Artemis by Andy Weir.

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