The Martian was quite literally a stellar debut, a smart sci-fi read that left no potato unturned in its quest to depict realistically the near-future of space travel. Marrying a convincing futuristic vision with compelling characters and a gripping narrative is a challenge for the genre, but Andy Weir does so effortlessly in this eagerly-awaited follow up. The titular city, Artemis (Crown, $27), is the only settlement on the moon, and its daily existence as a scientific hub and low gravity playground for the rich is a testament to mankind’s ingenuity. Readers would expect Weir’s science to be impeccable, and naturally it is, but he refuses to get swept up in grandiose depictions of his creation. Instead, it’s revealed piece-by-piece through the pragmatic eyes of “Jazz,” a lowly worker (and smuggler) whose hardscrabble life is far removed from the decadence of Artemis’s elite. When made an offer she can’t refuse, what begins as a classic crime caper unfurls into a conspiracy with wider implications for the entire city. As the plot races along, the details of lunar life firmly ground this novel; from the spacesuit design to the moon economy, Weir’s artfully crafted world feels like it’s only a quick rocket ride away.
Wolves occupy a special place in the hearts of Americans, commanding admiration for their beauty and respect for their fierce predatory skills. Although these animals are inextricably linked to the rugged identity of the West, Nate Blakeslee shows that the reality of human-wolf coexistence is complicated and uneasy. With the immediacy of a novel, American Wolf (Crown, $28) tracks “0-Six,” a charismatic alpha female descended from a pack reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995 (before which wolves had been hunted to near extinction). As she raises her cubs and faces down other wolves, 0-Six’s journey is depicted in meticulous and essential detail, providing the hook to a wider depiction of life in the northern Rockies. People feature prominently, including the watchers who track the wolf packs, the environmentalists who fought for their reintroduction, the ranchers losing livestock, and the hunters who resent the loss of elk, the wolves’ primary prey. Blakeslee is scrupulously fair in presenting the perspective of all those whose livelihoods are affected, and readers shouldn’t approach this expecting a “good guys, bad guys” narrative. Whatever conclusions you may reach, however, what stands out is the author’s esteem for an ancient species under pressure in the modern era.