Project Hail Mary: Even better than The Martian

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir

It’s alarming to wake up from a coma in completely unfamiliar surroundings, tethered to a bed by tubes and electrodes, with a computer voice quizzing you and robotic arms controlling your movements. It’s even more disturbing when you realize that you have no recollection of your name or your past life, and that there are two long-dead bodies in the room with you.

But gradually, through a series of flashback memories, Ryland Grace remembers that Earth is facing an extinction event: a Russian scientist discovered that a strange line has developed between the sun and Venus, and it’s causing the sun to lose energy at a rate that’s high enough to cause a worldwide ice age in the next few decades. Grace, a disgraced molecular biologist who abandoned academia to teach middle school science, was one of the scientists investigating the unique microorganisms, christened Astrophage, causing the sun’s disastrous decline in energy. Now his explorations of his current surroundings lead him to the realization that he’s in a spaceship headed to the Tau Ceti star system, on a one-way trip in search of a way to save the Earth, and the other two members of his crew didn’t survive the medically-induced comas during the long voyage of the Hail Mary. But a major surprise awaits Grace at his destination: humanity isn’t the only race looking to the Tau Ceti system for a possible answer to the problem of Astrophage.

Andy Weir’s latest science fiction adventure, Project Hail Mary (2021), marks a welcome return to form for fans of The Martian, after his lackluster second novel, Artemis. There’s the same hyper-focus on fine details of technology and science, one of Weir’s hallmarks, along with a series of critical events that our intrepid main character needs to overcome through a combination of scientific knowledge and inventiveness. Ryland Grace, who narrates the novel, also bears a distinct resemblance to Mark Watney: he’s an enthusiastically geeky and inventive scientist with an engaging voice and sense of humor, faced with a life-and-death situation.

Andy Weir

Andy Weir

“How did you do it? What killed it?”

 

“I penetrated the outer membrane with a nanosyringe.”

 

“You poked it with a stick?”

 

“No!” I said. “Well. Yes. But it was a scientific poke with a very scientific stick.”

But the stakes are higher here, the adventure more far-reaching, and there’s a subtle complexity to Grace’s character that is fully revealed toward the end, along with a (related) twist in the narrative that is logical but still managed to surprise me. Weir displays some subtleties in his writing in Project Hail Mary that go beyond his previous works of fiction. Weir also handles the dual timeline in this novel well, with the flashbacks flowing naturally as a result of Grace’s slowly-dispersing amnesia. These memories gradually fill in the background and reveal the full scope of the Astrophage problem and the reasons and hopes for Grace’s current mission, while the current timeline follows his adventures and mishaps once he reaches the ship’s destination … and beyond.

Much of Project Hail Mary is about Grace’s unanticipated friendship with another character who is tremendously pleasing in both his sheer alienness and his open-heartedness toward Ryland. While my practical mind debated the wisdom of Grace and the alien sharing too much information about their home worlds (I was deeply influenced by Murray Leinster’s classic novelette First Contact at an impressionable age), their developing trust and friendship is undeniably heartwarming.

Great books and movies are often marked by their attention to themes of love and redemption, and Project Hail Mary has both in spades. (I’m still trying to decide whether the title and the main character’s name are a deliberate call-out by Weir to “Hail Mary, full of Grace.” I’m inclined to think it is.) In any case, these compelling themes, plus a suspenseful, page-turning adventure and the inspiring scientific creativity of the characters (assuming you’re a reader who enjoys Weir’s attention to technical details in his plots), make Project Hail Mary a sure-fire hit for fans of The Martian … and may very well win him new fans.

Published in May 2021. 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, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance. Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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One comment

  1. I’m most of the way through, and I couldn’t agree more! Fantastic book.

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