Saving the World With Science: Andy Weird – Project Hail Mary

I skipped Andy Weir’s Artemis because opinions were less than enthused and I had wondered anyway if the success of The Martian could be topped. With Project Hail Mary, however, reviews were mostly positive an it sounded cool, so I gave it a try. And I can only join most other readers in saying: Yes, it’s a great book and if you liked The Martian you will probably also enjoy this.
Also, it was one of the few books that could hold my attention at a time when my brain was in a very specific “I can’t concentrate” mode and that’s saying something.

by Andy Weir

Published: Ballantine Books, 2021
481 pages
16 hours 10 minutes
My rating:

Opening line: “What’s two plus two?”

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

This book was a great mix of the expected and the unexpected. Andy Weir’s name is known to most SFF readers, even some people who don’t read but have seen the movie adaptation of The Martian and so certain expectations were impossible to dismiss. I was hopeing for humor, for science explained in ways that made me feel like I got it without actually understanding the deeper science (because I am not a scientist), and I expected a story with lots of dangerous situations where the protagonist MacGuyvers himself out of harm’s way last second. No spoiler: all of that can be found in this book. But there’s also more. Weir didn’t just do the exact same trick again in a different setting, he came up with both a new and compelling protagonist as well as a cool world-threatening problem to solve.

Ryland Grace wakes up in a sort of tank in a room that he doesn’t recognize and with two dead bodies lying in similar tanks. He has no memory of who excactly he is, where he is, what the hell is going on or why he knows all sorts of scientific facts when he doesn’t even know his name. It soon becomes clear that he is, in fact, on a space ship and that he has some sort of mission. Probably. It’s hazy. But it’s coming back to him in convenient flashback chapters.

The story follows Grace in the present as he figures out what the hell he’s doing in outer space and it follows the events leading up to this mission, where we learn who he is and what prompted this interstellar journey. Without giving away too much, I can tell you that a serious threat to Life on Earth is discovered and Ryland gets drawn into it as a respected scientist who gave up academia for a life of teaching. The plot on Earth was surprisingly exciting, considering that it should be the space travel bits that really get the heartrate going, but Ryland is such an easy protagonist to identify with, with his too human fears and worries, but an essentially good heart. I especially liked that he’s not the perfect cookie cutter hero. He’s not super brave. He’s just a smart man who got dragged into the most important thing to happen to humanity in forever.
We see how humanity bands together – well, they kind of have to because the entire mission is spearheaded by one absolutely bonkers but equally brilliant lady by the name of Eva Stratt. A woman with so much power, it makes for some gloriously funny moments just by itself. It’s not every day that one person can pick and choose among the armies of the world and command them around like little kids.

Just as interesting is the story that unfolds aboard the Hail Mary, which is the name of the space ship that Ryland finds himself on. As he figures out the basic premise of his space travels as well as the goal humanity hopes him to achieve, he is not only confronted with truly hard-to-face truths, but also with all sorts of obstacles. Because this wouldn’t be an Andy Weir novel if something didn’t go wrong every other chapter.
Now I went into this book pretty blank, but I think it’s okay to say that there is a little more alien life in this book than one first expects and that life varies in threat level. That’s about as vague as I can remain without outright saying it. But because it’s such an essential part of the novel and – to me – the emotional core of the story, I do have to mention that Ryland makes first contact and sciences the shit out of this encounter. In the best of ways!

What surprised me the most was that the book kept me guessing. When reading The Martian, I never, for one second, doubted that Mark Watney would make it back home to Earth because it was just that kind of book. But in this one, I kept swinging back and forth on how things could end. Will Weir deliver a properly tragic ending with Ryland saving humanity but dying in the process? Will he somehow defeat all odds and make it back home alive? Will he sacrifice himself for others or will he go into survival mode and look out for himself first? It all could have happened, and it all would have somehow fit the tone of the story. It’s still humerous and Ryland has no problem laughing at himself or the situations he finds himself in, but overall, I found this a bit more serious than The Martian and the stakes are much, much higher – as terrible as that sounds because Mark Watney was awesome but he was only one guy stranded on Mars – this is all of humanity we’re talking about here.

I honestly had no clue how things would end until I actually reached the end. And then I was surprised again! I was pretty damn happy with how the story turned out but I admit, I did not see this particular ending coming. In retrospect, it’s spot on and fitting and ties things up emotionally as well. I’m getting a little teary-eyed thinking about it. And this, my friends, is why this highly entertaining science-filled alien-encountering humanity-saving book gets a very high rating from me. Making me enjoy myself for 16 hours and getting me to cry a little is my idea of a great novel.

Speaking of 16 hours: I highly recommend the audiobook. Ray Porter reads Ryland Grace like an actor and gives the whole story an added layer of immersion. But even cooler is that, for that alien life I was alluding to not very subtly before, certain sound effects are used that made me feel like I was really listening to different creatures, not one narrator reading their lines. Otherwise, this is your standard one-person narration without any gimmicks or background music. But that little bit of added sound made a whole lot of difference to me.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

7 thoughts on “Saving the World With Science: Andy Weird – Project Hail Mary

  1. birdjayreads says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’m so glad that you did too. I went into it blind as well, and I recommend that everyone do the same. The “surprise” about the other ship was just…so much better not knowing about it before getting into the book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stuart Danker says:

    This really was my best read for 2021. Maybe because it led me down a path of a few possible solutions, then it took a totally different path—and a more satisfying one too. This continued all the way till the end, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Was rooting for the characters the entire time. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. spineandleafbooks says:

    I loved this book too! I got ahold of it almost as soon as it came out. Unfortunately, The Martian was still better, but this was also really, really good. Could anyone have called that ending? It fit perfectly, but I never would have guessed Weir would take it in that direction.

    Liked by 1 person

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