The Artemis Effect by Kasia James marks a first for Robin’s Books. It’s the first book I’ve read at the direct request of its author. Since starting the blog and joining Twitter, I’ve found my attitude to reviews has changed. It’s great to have increased links with the source of my books, in particular the authors, but it makes being impartial much much harder.
It used to be easy to eviscerate poor prose and dismiss dodgy dialogue. Now, with more of an understanding of the body and soul that goes into a book, I don’t want any book to be bad. If I follow an author on Twitter, and he seems like a thoroughly decent chap, what do I do when I find I don’t like his book? What if I’ve begged a copy from the publisher? Writing a bad review in those circumstances feels like a betrayal.
The possibility of these feelings are somehow worse when it’s a debut novel and I’ve been asked directly by the author to review it. Now a negative review is saying ‘I am good enough to review your book, but it is not good enough for me.’ What a conceited arse that would make me.
Further to that, just knowing this is an independently published novel by a fledgling author makes me look at it in a different light. From the outset I’m expecting it to be poorly edited, so I unconsciously look for every mistake. Yet I know this is a debut, so I want it to succeed. I want to be positive. I am prepared to overlook things I might have jumped on from more established authors, or a book heavily promoted by a publishing giant. I am simultaneously harsher yet lenient. It’s a discomfiting feeling.
I am pleased to report that the Artemis Effect is a pretty fine debut; enjoyable from wherever it had come. Okay, it is preposterous in many ways, but it’s exciting and thoughtful, with a fine cast of characters. The story revolves around a bizarre phenomenon affecting the moon. This in turn plays havoc with life on Earth. Tides go bananas, electromagnetic radiation haywire and communication over any distance becomes almost impossible.
This is not a book for the credulous. The central phenomenon has a 1950s B-movie feel to it and has to be taken with a giant pinch of salt, but James is more interested in the implications of her premise rather than the premise itself. What happens to 21st Century life, if communication becomes impossible?
Computers fail, planes are grounded, commerce grinds to a halt. Suddenly the postal service is all important, but only whilst the petrol lasts. James sets her book in three locations; small-town Australia, the American mid-west and rural Britain. By choosing these locations, she deliberately avoids writing about the disintegration of an urban population, and the likely incipient violence. This is a quiet apocalypse. Obviously there is some looting and rioting, but this is about what might go on beyond that.
On the face of it, the decline of society felt too quiet. Governments do little. There are no troops on the streets, no national campaigns to keep society together, but on reflection perhaps this is appropriate. Information dissemination, so vital and taken for granted, would suddenly become impossible. How would governments keep control? This started me wondering, how do they do it now? I’m not sure they do. It’s the continued supply of food and money to buy it, that keeps society from toppling. We really are three square meals from anarchy.
The device of using three far-flung locations works well. It affords the opportunity to show the differences in her locations but also the commonality of humanity across the globe (though all the characters are from broadly the same walk of life ). There are several delicious links between the three settings, that only the reader is aware of, which helps bind things together.
Another strong link (due to one of the plot threads) is child birth. All locations have at least one delivery. With medical intervention reduced to a minimum, childbirth is reduced to the primal, dangerous process it had been for thousands of years before the advent of modern medicines. It makes you realise how ill-suited to the task we are! It’s a wonder humanity ever arrived at this point of civilisation at all.
There are problems with the book beyond the plausibility of the plot. The pacing is all over the place. After a strong start the pace slackens, so much so I thought I was reading the first book in a series. Then the final fifty pages wraps everything up at a bewildering pace, leaving me out breath and a little short changed.
A book like the Artemis Effect relies on its readability. Each night I found I had to force myself to stop reading. Since I’ve been averaging 5 hours sleep a night, I can’t really think of a stronger way to recommend this book. Kasia James’s prose is easy to read, and she treats her readers to plenty of mysteries that draw them through chapter after chapter.
Though they are nothing alike in content, The Artemis Effect reminded me of another independently published novel, ‘The Plantation’ by Chris Kuzneski. Kuzneski has since been picked up by a major publisher and has a number of bestselling thrillers to his name. James’s debut has fewer deficiencies than Kuzneski’s, and on the strength of The Artemis Effect she too deserves a successful writing career.