Book Review

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

A lone astronaut.

An impossible mission.

An ally he never imagined.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

Project Hail Mary is the latest novel from Andy Weir, author of The Martian and Artemis.  Now I’ll be honest, I LOVED The Martian but while I enjoyed Artemis, I can’t say that I enjoyed it quite as much as The Martian.  If you feel similarly, you’re in for a treat as I found Project Hail Mary to have more in common with Weir’s debut, both in terms of the style of the novel but also the sheer enjoyment I got from it.  I was hooked from the beginning.

Ostensibly, Project Hail Mary and The Martian seem quite similar.  Weir has put his protagonist, Ryland Grace, in a seemingly impossible position, and then has him gradually work to improve his situation using physics, maths, and a bit of elbow grease.  This is not just a rehash of what Weir has done previously, however – Grace’s problems are quite different to those experienced by Mark Watney (the protagonist in The Martian), and there’s an overarching plot beyond the “guy stuck in space” situation. 

It seems a bold claim to make, and yet I think that Grace’s situation is actually worse than that of Watney.  The novel opens with him waking up alone with no idea who he is, where he is, or what he’s doing there.  There’s a lot to figure out, and Weir uses flashbacks to provide the background to Grace’s mission and how he came to be in his present situation as Grace’s memory gradually returns.  It’s not necessarily new or unique, but it’s a neat way of providing the reader with the bigger picture.  I think it also helps to immerse the reader in the narrative. At the outset, we know exactly as much as Ryland Grace does, which is exactly zilch. 

Despite not knowing much about him initially, Grace comes across as a good and decent person.  He’s amusing and intelligent, and I liked getting to know him better as the novel progressed, learning more about his background, and seeing his flaws as well as his strengths.  As with The Martian, Weir uses his protagonist to talk through some complex scientific ideas in layman’s terms.  I’ll admit that, despite this dumbing down, some of these ideas and concepts were beyond me – physics never was my strong suit – but I was happy to take the science at face value and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel at all. 

I can’t say too much about the plot of Project Hail Mary without giving spoilers.  Once Grace remembers the purpose of the mission, it becomes clear that Earth’s future is very much dependent upon his mission being successful, so no pressure there.  The plot does take some unexpected turns, however, and while I won’t spoil it for other readers, it’s takes the novel in a different direction to what I was expecting at the outset, making this novel a whole lot of fun.  Highly recommended.

Also by Andy Weir and reviewed on Jo’s Book Blog:

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