Debating Space – Philip Palmer’s Artemis

Philip Palmer’s Artemis is more of the same: a frenetic, action heavy novel which almost revels in its inhumanity. Like Version 43, the central character is a version of a human, reborn after major damage or death.

The entity lives in a hellish universe of continual conflict and is reborn into subservience under a new master. Eventually they realise that perpetual conflict is counter-productive and begin to find some humanity. Each incarnation of the being under goes this change and slowly moves towards being a person. Perhaps Version 43 was the most successful version of this once the version realised what he was and began to remember his past lives and begin to make some sort of atonement. He became a character rather than what feels like an exercise in writing military space opera with a crime aspect to it.

Artemis is a career criminal and mass murderer who is offered a get out of jail card by going on several jobs which become a revenge tragedy of their own. Each mini-story builds a larger tale of violent response to an earlier wrong eventually echoing the Scott Card Ender’s War with the virtualisation of conflict whilst finding some sort of short lived reconciliation with her estranged mother.

Echoing the anger and frustration at the universe of Bester’s Gully Foyle, Artemis moves around the universe seeking her primary goal. The ultra-violence becomes almost mechanical and when Earth is attacked again, the reader is almost numb.

Artemis feels like an exercise in riffing off authors, such as Bester or Pohl or Card, without exploring their strengths and weaknesses. Foyle burns with a righteous anger at being left to die in space before fighting his way back to Earth. Artemis never achieves this righteous anger and the eventual reunion feels brutally short-lived. It is a style of SF which ignores possibilities; rather it plays to the stalls, singing the Debatable Space opera.

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