Review – Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
The epitome of a three-peat, Project Hail Mary cements author Andy Weir as the next big name in the Sci-Fi space with a great blend of grounded, creative science and thrilling fiction that I’ve only ever seen in Weir’s previous works – The Martian and Artemis.
Throughout the novel, we slip into the body of Ryland Grace, a former high school teacher, former science academic turned star trekking astronaut from his awakening Alien style aboard the titular ship. Grace isn’t alone perse but I wouldn’t call the husks of his crewmates stimulating conversationalists.
We start the story in medias res and thanks to the authors’ best friend – retrograde amnesia – we’re given flashbacks periodically throughout the novel that fill in the backstory of how Grace ended up aboard a spaceship with dead crewmates. We find out about halfway through the novel that Grace wasn’t a willing participant in the mission so much as that he was conscripted into it at the last moment after a series of unfortunate events.
Now that we know who Grace is, the next big question has to be where in the world is Ryland Grace? As it so happens, he’s not in the world at all and is in the Tau Ceti solar system twelve light-years away from everyone he’s ever known.
Well, I hate to break it to you but the sun is dying. In the novel I mean. Our sun will eventually die out though (unless our solar system gets taken out early by a rogue solar system careening through space). Dying probably isn’t the right term come to think of it, it’s more like its dimming at an exponential rate thanks to some previously undiscovered microorganisms that absorb heat and convert it into energy. Good for heat insulation and energy sources, bad that the dips in the sun’s temperature are ruining the delicate ecosystem of the Earth ending with a cataclysmic extinction event.
Yes, the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been in any of Andy Weir’s previous work. From one man in The Martian, an entire moon colony in Artemis, we’ve taken the big step of including the entire human race.
With stakes this high, you need a hero to save the day… unfortunately, we’re stuck with Ryland Grace, non-hero extraordinaire. He’s a coward that throughout the novel uses any excuse he can think of to get out of the critical space mission.
Normally, I’d dislike a character showing this type of abject cowardice. However, Weir uses the first-person point of view to delve a bit deeper into Grace’s psyche and it really turned me around on Grace’s character. I feel that a lot of readers like me will be able to overlook Grace’s cowardice and self-serving nature because we understand his trepidation and the reason why. That context goes a long way.
The main thing that kept me invested in Grace is his pure enthusiasm for science and anything science-related. It makes the abundance of scientific explanations and information a bit more palatable because it feels in line with the character to just launch into long-winded explanations about science.
One of the drawbacks of having the story in the first-person point of view is that we don’t get a great insight into other characters aside from the various insights Grace offers to the reader about them. That did feel like the other characters lacked the certain level of depth afforded to Grace.
The other character that Weir puts a lot of effort and time into developing is Rocky, a fellow traveller from the distant 40 Eridani System whose home world is also under the same threat as Earth. Rocky is easily the most interesting character in the book for me, mainly just from his physiology alone.
Rocky’s species has evolved in a high gravity environment with an atmosphere that’s toxic to humans and as a result, they appear vastly different to humans or what we think of as aliens. They communicate solely through an audio spectrum as opposed to a visual spectrum.
I have to applaud Weir for this move. Not only is it a really creative departure from the generic sci-fi little green men aliens that are rampant in old school sci-fi, but it also creates a cavalcade of interesting challenges that most other works that include first contact with alien life avoid that Grace has to overcome.
It’s exciting discovering more about Rocky and his species as Grace does, with each little piece of information fuelling this sense of discovery that all great sci-fi works have to some extent.
The blossoming relationship between Grace and Rocky really is the heart of the story for me and the main story arc that I was interested in and enjoyed following along with. I loved watching these two characters meet and then grow close as they survive the trials and tribulations of their thrilling space adventure.
Some events take place during the back end of the novel between Grace and Rocky that I don’t want to spoil but it’s the most emotional I’ve gotten from reading a novel in a long time so props to Weir for the great friendship he built up between these two.
With Grace and the story itself so heavily focused on science like The Martian and Artemis before it, it’s a good thing that the science is well researched and explained in terms that make it as easy to understand as you can when it comes to relative theoretical physics. I crapped out of year 12 Physics and even I could pretty much follow along with most of the concepts going on in this novel so take that for whatever it’s worth.
Looking online, a few other reviewers have pointed out the lack of checklists that they argue would have stopped or negated the effects of some of Grace’s mistakes but I don’t really buy that. Sure, from trained astronauts, I would expect they would be aware of checklists but with Grace, he’s a civilian that’s been thrown into the situation so I’m going to expect that he won’t know diddly squat about any checklists.
Overall, Project Hail Mary is another home run for Andy Weir with a great main character and relationship between Grace and Rocky. If you like grounded smart sci-fi this is a must-read.
Have you read Project Hail Mary yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below.
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