Andy Weir is back and once again he’s putting the science in science fiction. Project Hail Mary is Weir’s third novel, after the literary and cinematic sensation The Martian and his second book, Artemis. I enjoyed The Martian about as much as anybody. Weir has a knack for writing hard science in a way that’s intriguing. I found Artemis to be a bit of a letdown. The science was there but the story wasn’t. That’s not a problem in Project Hail Mary. It’s not only a return to form, but I found it to be his best work to date by a comfortable margin.
Project Hail Mary follows the story of an astronaut who wakes up from a coma on a spaceship. While not ideal under any circumstances, our hero’s problems are compounded by the fact that he has lost all memory of his identity and how he got in his current situation. Weir resorts early to people science-ing their way out of dire situations. Over the first act of the book, we come to learn about the existential crisis facing the Earth that Ryland Grace (our hero does remember his identity early) is the only hope to solve.
There’s loads of science-related problem solving in the book. This is old hat for anyone who’s read/seen The Martian and the copious amount of ink spilled about farming potatoes on Mars. Is the science real? Who knows! Also, who cares! It’s fun! It’s written in a way that just sucks me in. Weir heads deeper into the fiction side of science fiction in Project Hail Mary too. The Martian was always one step away from being believable. Mission to Mars? Farfetched, but that sounds like something humans might be able to do. Project Hail Mary finds Weir weaving his science-based challenges that stray much further from reality. But part of the fun is that Weir makes it seem believable. It brought to mind the Bobiverse series from Dennis E. Taylor in its skirting the edge of actual science and the impossible.
I found the narrative to be pretty strong, too. Weir leans on Grace’s amnesia to tell two stories. As Grace remembers more (at admittedly convenient intervals for his mission), Weir flashes back to how Earth found itself in such dire straits and how Grace came to play such a pivotal role. The primary focus of the narrative is on the mission, but Weir weaves in the essential backstory skillfully up until the final few chapters of the book. The choice to tell the story in a non-linear way really helps shape the character development and sense of suspense throughout.
I’d like to keep my review spoiler-free, so I’ll stop my critiques and praise here. I just really enjoyed Project Hail Mary. If you like The Martian it seems like a very good bet you’ll like Project Hail Mary. If The Martian wasn’t exciting enough of a space adventure for you, this book might also better suit your tastes. Now that we’ve seen Weir get a couple of books under his belt, it’s clear that when he has a good story to tell, he’s going to tell it in an interesting way that uses science to keep the reader engaged. I’d highly recommend this one.
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