Sunday, October 3, 2021

REVIEW: Project Hail Mary (book) by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary is science fiction. I bought my copy brand new.

Contains mild spoilers.


The main character wakes up with no memory of who he is, where he is, or what's going on. Memories gradually come back to him. His name is Ryland Grace, and he was part of a crew of three that was put in suspended animation on a ship called the Hail Mary. Why him? He doesn't know. What, specifically, was he supposed to do? He doesn't know that either. But he does know that his mission is vital to the survival of life on Earth, and since his two other crew members died at some point during the trip, he's going to have to accomplish his mystery mission on his own.

The only other book by Weir that I've read is The Martian, which I generally enjoyed. In some ways, Project Hail Mary initially seemed very similar: a lone male protagonist whose life depends on his scientific knowledge, boatloads of dedicated scientists back on Earth who get a lot done but generally aren't very compelling characters, and a good mixture of humor and dark/tense moments. The amnesia added something new, although Ryland was a little more annoying than I remembered Mark Watney being - he reminded me very strongly of Mike, the protagonist in Peter Clines' The Fold. Thankfully, Ryland gradually improved (or the ship and science stuff did a better job at distracting me), and one part later on in the book did directly address one of the issues I had with him.

Some people may consider what I'm about to mention a spoiler, but I feel like it needs saying since it was part of the reason why I caved and read this. One of the best things about Project Hail Mary, and the thing that really set it apart from The Martian, was the first contact aspect. I won't give too many details, but as someone who generally enjoys "first contact" science fiction, I was impatient to get to that part of the book and it did not disappoint. As much as I enjoyed it, though, that aspect didn't feel quite as believable as all the Hail Mary and astrophage stuff, particularly at the end. Beyond all the hand-waving away years of scientific problem-solving, there were cultural/societal aspects that didn't really ring true to me.

Project Hail Mary got pretty bleak at times. Although this book wasn't about climate change, it did reference it, and I couldn't help but think about it as a couple scientists grimly explained what was likely to happen in the next few years, even if Ryland was 100% successful. That said, I'd still call it optimistic sci-fi, focused more on what could be accomplished with science and teamwork than on doom and gloom.

I think The Martian was better overall, but I still enjoyed this a lot. If I were ever to reread it, though, I imagine I'd skip or skim large chunks of the first half of the book just so I could get to Rocky faster.

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