Bob Was There Too

 

I just finished reading Artemis, by Andy Weir. Yes, I know it’s been out for *checks title page* five years? Really? Man, I am slow at this kind of thing. The good part of not staying up-to-the-minute on these things is that I can get the book from the library because nobody else has it out. The bad thing is that nobody cares about what you have to say by then. But sometimes I’m early; sometimes I… hold on, I’m going to need to get a proper hipster beer to fortify me for this next part.

Now that I’m drinking a Triple India Pale Ale double dry hopped with Simcoe, Callista, and Kohatu,* I can tell you that I’ve been a fan of Andy Weir’s for longer than you have. I’ve read his first novel. No, not The Martian, this is the unpublished one called Theft of Pride. You’ve probably never heard of it. He had a download link on his website. No, not his current website; galactanet, the old one where he hosted his webcomic Casey & Andy. Hold on…

Okay, after a swig of Dr. Pepper I think I can break out of the whole hipster milieu and get on with the story. Casey & Andy was a webcomic about mad science. I mean, there was a bunch of other stuff in there, but all the best stuff was about mad science. Occasionally he’d break into a story with some actual continuity, but things like character development were never Andy Weir’s strong point. What he does really, really well is gadgets.

XKCD still has the best summary of this that I’ve ever heard.

I only ever knew about his attempt at a novel because I was reading his webcomic whenever it updated back in the heady days of 2004. Theft of Pride is the story of a sci-fi heist. The greatest jewel thief in the galaxy needs to steal the symbol of an alien race’s pride out from the midst of the most heavily guarded museum in known space. That sort of thing. The heist is pretty cool; there’s a lot of interesting world-building (I suspect that the whole thing started as a homebrew setting for a role-playing game) but all that is stuff that plays to Weir’s strengths. And the man’s writing has its weaknesses.

He borrowed his comic once to explicitly complain about a rejection; not a rejection from a publisher, but from a potential agent for his novel. I don’t know that that novel was exactly Theft of Pride, but the pattern fits. They thought he didn’t have enough characters in his story. “Feel free to edit and resubmit.” But it’s a heist. You can’t just add in characters to a heist; every additional person in a group noticeably weakens it, so your characters have to have good reasons to bring in these extra security risks. When you set out to write a novel that might be possible. When you’ve got it already finished, adding more into that matrix gets very, very difficult. How do you fix that? That’s Bob’s job. Bob was there, too.

[…] I jokingly came up with randomly adding “Bob was there, too” throughout the story.

This spawned a running joke within my group of friends and a fun activity. Take a book you like, open to a random page and read a paragraph. At the end, add “Bob was there, too.” This can be particularly entertaining if you end up reading a paragraph from a sex scene.

It works reasonably well. From that point on Bob showed up as a running gag in the strip. A whole slew of comics would go by with nothing and then, well

Back to Artemis. This is a post about Artemis, did you forget? It’s only been half the post since I’ve mentioned it. It’s an Andy Weir novel, in both the good and the bad sense. In the good sense, it’s got wonderful gadgets. His lunar society is well thought out, the devices that you need to keep society alive and functioning on the moon are logically engineered. The ways to defeat them are also well thought out. The ways to sabotage those devices don’t just seem logical, they seem inevitable. That’s the mark of good craftsmanship.

On the downside, well, Weir still hasn’t figured out how to do people. You can tell why The Martian was his breakout novel, the whole setup of a man lost on Mars forces it to be all gadgets and no person-to-person relationships. It’s not that his main character makes stupid decisions, or speaks crudely, or talks like a total jerk to one and all; those can all be done well. It’s that she jingles when she’s supposed to jangle, and jangles when she’s supposed to jingle. It’s as if Weir is singing slightly out of tune. You can’t blame him; he’s mimicking what he hears as well as he knows how, but it’s a little off-putting, and it makes you start looking for the props. You notice the piano wire holding up the spaceship, and the bit where someone spilled extra glue onto the model.

The opening scene of Artemis has our hero running desperately across the moonscape, her suit punctured and leaking air. It’s a race against time to get her into the airlock before the vacuum kills her. Bob was there, too. There’s a second character out with her, an EVA suit master who’s testing her for admission to that particular guild. His name is Bob. Now that I saw Bob I was watching for him. And Bob… Bob was there, too. He’s a minor character, he keeps showing up in the book, but the whole story could have been written without him. He makes contributions to the plot but those could have been handled with a little reshuffling of the other characters. I think Weir knew this, and I think he named that guy Bob as a hint to us long-term fans** to that effect.

That’s what I mean by the downside. I can see the piano wires. When Captain Kirk fought the Gorn we all saw the guy in a rubber suit, and perhaps even recognized the Vazquez rocks. That’s okay. I wasn’t there for the special effects, I was there for the story. And the story was a pretty neat one. Here I’m going in the opposite direction. Weir’s story can be predictable. His characters remind you that they’re figments on a page, not real people. His lamps have a tendency to burn through his lampshades.

You know what though? None of that matters. I still liked the book a great deal. It doesn’t qualify as one of the great works of the western canon, but it definitely scratches the gadget itch good and hard. I have suspicions about some of his science, but the fact that I do is only because I didn’t stop to repeat the MST3K mantra to myself. If he’s going to tell me that moon cities will have pure oxygen atmospheres at 21% of Earth’s normal pressure then I’m willing to believe him. He’s done his homework. I’m glad I’ve read this book, and I’m looking forward to reading his next book.

In a couple years.


*No, I’m not actually making any of that up. It’s called Code Name Dawson’s Creek, and it’s from the Young Blood Beer Co out of Madison, WI. The can confidently informs me “This tripe IPA is absolutely bursting with dank vibes.” I don’t know what that means either.

**Sorry; got to finish the beer now that I’ve opened it up.

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  1. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher: Now that I’m drinking a Triple India Pale Ale double dry hoped with Simcoe, Callista and Kohatu* I can tell you that I’ve been a fan of Andy Weir’s for longer than you have. I’ve read his first novel. No, not The Martian, this is the unpublished one called Theft of Pride. You’ve probably never heard of it.

    I’ll go you even one better:  I’ve never heard of Andy Weir.  I doubt that I’m worse off for it.

    • #1
  2. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    I should mention as well that I owe a debt of gratitude to Andy Weir. Way back when, in the notes for one of his comics, he mentioned devising time travel mechanics for a home brew RPG he and Casey made. When I eventually picked up a digital copy of GURPS: Casey & Andy I was disappointed to realize that the time travel system described in the book didn’t match up with the ones he mentioned under the comic. Instead they gave a parallel timeline version, which wasn’t as interesting. I… I have thoughts about time travel. I wrote in and asked about it, including some at-best-half-coherent thoughts I had about how you could make time travel work in an RPG setting.

    He wrote back, not just with more details about the mechanics, but also a link to a private wiki they had set up to keep information about that campaign. The campaign itself didn’t last more than a session or two, but the wiki still had plenty of information on how time travel worked in that game, which was exactly the information I was looking for. Jerk that I am, I never wrote back to say “thank you” for that favor.

    Well Mr. Weir, from one nerd to another, thank you kindly.

    • #2
  3. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    When I think about Bob, I think about “Mostly Harmless.”

    • #3
  4. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    When I think about Bob, I think about “Mostly Harmless.”

    Ah right, the Ineffable Bob. Took me a moment.

    • #4
  5. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    When I think about Bob, I think about “Mostly Harmless.”

    Ah right, the Ineffable Bob. Took me a moment.

    We’re all ineffable; he’s just more than most.

    • #5
  6. Taras Coolidge
    Taras
    @Taras

    I stalled a few chapters into Artemis.

    But then I borrowed the audiobook from the library and, with Rosario Dawson bringing Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, the narrator, to life, it suddenly became a compelling story which I greatly enjoyed.

    One might say that Andy Weir had inadvertently written a radio play, which needed to be performed rather than read.

    So I’m looking forward to Weir’s new book — but perhaps the audiobook …

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher: “This tripe IPA is absolutely bursting with dank vibes.”

    So:

    • typo on their parts?
    • typo on your part?
    • an  example of Freudian truth-in-advertising?
    • #7
  8. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Percival (View Comment):

    • typo on your part?

    But I think I’ll let it stand. 

    • #8
  9. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    At your *: tripe IPA? If it was that bad, you didn’t have to finish it.

    • #9
  10. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Captain French (View Comment):

    At your *: tripe IPA? If it was that bad, you didn’t have to finish it.

    I dunno, maybe you’ve found the drink for @kirkianwanderer.

    • #10
  11. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Don’t worry about being late with the review. I wasn’t even aware the book existed. And like Jay Bauman said on a recent RLM video, it’s okay to talk about something awhile after it was released.

    I appreciating learning about Bob. I suspect most reviews didn’t include that.

    My main takeaway is that Andy Weir, like the XKCD guy, should learn to draw before making comics.

    • #11
  12. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):
    My main takeaway is that Andy Weir, like the XKCD guy, should learn to draw before making comics.

    Given that he often referred to himself as “the world’s laziest cartoonist” I don’t think it was in the cards.

    • #12
  13. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher:

    I think he named that guy Bob as a hint to us long term fans**

    Spent longer than I’d care to admit trying to figure out what word you were censoring (fansub?) before realizing it was an annotation.

    • #13
  14. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

     

    So you are willing to miss out on this from his book “Theft of Pride”?

    The greatest jewel thief in the galaxy needs to steal the symbol of an alien race’s pride out from the midst of the most heavily guarded museum in known space. That sort of thing. The heist is pretty cool; there’s a lot of interesting world-building (I suspect that the whole thing started as a homebrew setting for a role-playing game) but all that is stuff that plays to Weir’s strengths. And the man’s writing has its weaknesses.

     

    • #14
  15. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

     

    So you are willing to miss out on this from his book “Theft of Pride”?

    The greatest jewel thief in the galaxy needs to steal the symbol of an alien race’s pride out from the midst of the most heavily guarded museum in known space. That sort of thing. The heist is pretty cool; there’s a lot of interesting world-building (I suspect that the whole thing started as a homebrew setting for a role-playing game) but all that is stuff that plays to Weir’s strengths. And the man’s writing has its weaknesses.

     

    Well, I don’t know.  Maybe.

    • #15
  16. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Around here people might get the idea with a title like that you are going to have a picture of Bob the dog. Some might be mildly disappointed. I should have noticed that the writer was not @kentforrester before I scrolled down. I’ll go back and read it. (-:

    • #16
  17. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):
    My main takeaway is that Andy Weir, like the XKCD guy, should learn to draw before making comics.

    Given that he often referred to himself as “the world’s laziest cartoonist” I don’t think it was in the cards.

    Given the number of web cartoonists who’ve self applied that title I’d sort of like to see that Olympic sport.

    Yeah, the drawings are pretty crappy, but I’ll put up with a lot of bad art for that quality in mad science.

    • #17
  18. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Around here people might get the idea with a title like that you are going to have a picture of Bob the dog. Some might be mildly disappointed. I should have noticed that the writer was not kentforrester before I scrolled down. I’ll go back and read it. (-:

    Yeah, that’s an oversight on m part. You’ve got to admit though that Bob the Dog has a pretty good game at being there too.

    • #18
  19. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher:

    I think he named that guy Bob as a hint to us long term fans**

    Spent longer than I’d care to admit trying to figure out what word you were censoring (fansub?) before realizing it was an annotation.

    One of the gags in Artemis, in moments of great frustration the hero will make up her own swear words.

    Father: “What exactly is a ‘funt’?

    Hero: “I think it’s pretty clear from the context.”

    • #19
  20. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):
    Given the number of web cartoonists who’ve self applied that title I’d sort of like to see that Olympic sport.

    Who else besides him and Scott Meyer?

    • #20
  21. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):
    Given the number of web cartoonists who’ve self applied that title I’d sort of like to see that Olympic sport.

    Who else besides him and Scott Meyer?

    There have been more, but I can’t name any names off the top of my head.

    • #21
  22. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    When I think about Bob, I think about “Mostly Harmless.”

    I prefer to ask “What About Bob?” 

    • #22
  23. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):
    My main takeaway is that Andy Weir, like the XKCD guy, should learn to draw before making comics.

    On this I disagree, well for XKCD and say Sluggy Freelance, their *ahem* style is part of their allure. XKCD’s use of stick figures reduces the comic to the story itself almost to the point that you don’t need the panels, except they, like a haiku, are just the barest level one needs to hint at what your mind will fill in. I mean, anyone could be that Mom in Exploits of a Mom, we’ve all known her (or him) and the stick figure allows us to see their faces when they tell the school they should sanitize their inputs. 

    • #23
  24. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):
    Yeah, the drawings are pretty crappy, but I’ll put up with a lot of bad art for that quality in mad science.

    You sgkukd read Girl Genius then…Phil Foglio is an amazing artist and it’s the only Steampunk I ever really liked. It’s very basis is Mad Science! 

    • #24
  25. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    I think that a lot of people read Weir for the same reasons they drink IPAs, to claim that they like it, even if they don’t because they know that the cool people all do. 

    The Martian was an entertaining story (both book and movie in different ways), but it does lack in traditional storytelling mechanisms. I just finally read Artemis a few months ago and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but it was in spite of the characters not because of them. One tends to like Mark Whatney, but I could not like Jazz. 

    • #25
  26. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Dbroussa (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):
    Yeah, the drawings are pretty crappy, but I’ll put up with a lot of bad art for that quality in mad science.

    You sgkukd read Girl Genius then…Phil Foglio is an amazing artist and it’s the only Steampunk I ever really liked. It’s very basis is Mad Science!

    • #26