Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Title: Project Hail Mary
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Length: 496 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

Wow. This was a great read!

I had a few worries about starting Project Hail Mary. Even though I loved The Martian, I had to stop and think — was I really in the mood for a novel full of equations and science? Could I see myself sticking with it for 500 pages?

Well, thank goodness I decided to jump in. I loved this book!

Right from the start, the suspense is high. The narrator wakes up, and doesn’t know where — or who — he is. He’s greeted by a robotic voice asking him questions, before he falls back to sleep again. As he becomes more and more alert, he starts to recognize some basics: He’s in some sort of bed, he has tubes and medical monitoring devices all over, and he’s being tended by robotic arms. Once he makes it onto his own two feet and takes out the tubes, he’s able to explore his immediately surroundings — an oddly shaped room with a ladder, and two beds containing corpses.

He can’t make much more progress, because the robotic voice won’t open sealed doors for him until he can identify himself… and he still doesn’t know his own name. But as he looks around, bits and pieces start to come back to him.

Over time, he remembers who he is — Ryland Grace, a junior high school science teacher — and figures out that he’s on a space ship of some sort. But why? He’s just a teacher. Granted, he’s a teacher with a Ph.D. who left academia after a poorly-received paper… but still. Why would he be on a spaceship? And why is he here with two dead people? As he’s overset by grief, he realizes that he cared about these people, and that they were his crewmates, but he still doesn’t know why they’re in space, why he was in what appears to have been a lengthy coma, and what it is he’s supposed to be doing.

The computer finishes its boot process and brings up a screen I’ve never seen before. I can tell it means trouble, because the word “TROUBLE” is in large type across the top.

As the book progresses, Grace’s experiences on the ship, the Hail Mary, are interwoven with his returning memories. Through his memories, we learn that Earth faced an extinction-level event, and that the Hail Mary was sent into space to find a solution. Grace was roped into the project early on as a researcher thanks to his expertise in molecular biology, and through his involvement, we get to see the global scientific community’s desperate race to save the planet, all leading up to the Hail Mary‘s launch.

On the ship, Grace is seeking answers, but first he needs to figure out the questions, such as where he is, what he’s looking for, and what tools his has at his disposal. And the biggest questions too — what problem is he trying to solve, and why him? He’s not an astronaut. He’s a science teacher, gosh darn it! (His avoidance of swear words is a funny running bit throughout the book…)

As in The Martian, author Andy Weir uses very smart people to solve problems with SCIENCE. And also as in The Martian, there were plenty of times when the science whooooooooshed over my head. But that’s okay. Even if I’m not up to speed on measuring gravity and can’t explain relativity and infrared light, I followed enough to stay engaged and intrigued and, I admit it, more than a little impressed.

Finding a spaceship “somewhere outside the Tau Ceti system” is no small task. Imagine being given a rowboat and told to find a toothpick “somewhere in the ocean”. It’s like that, but nowhere as easy.

Ryland Grace is a fun main character, even in the direst of dire straits, so even as he’s panicking or confused or feeling angry or hopeless, he’s always entertaining and never dull. He’s quippy and sarcastic, and when he has an idea, it lets us as readers feel like we’re on the sidelines watching a master in action.

“Coffee.”

The arms dutifully hand me a cup of coffee. It’s kind of cool that the arms will hand me a cup when there’s gravity, but a pouch when there isn’t. I’ll remember this when writing up the Hail Mary‘s Yelp review.

I’m sure plenty of reviews are going to talk about a particular character and how utterly amazing he is… and yes, he is utterly amazing… and I would have been pissed to know much about him in advance or how he fits into the story, so I won’t say anything! But trust me, the story takes a turn I didn’t expect, then builds on it in really fantastic ways, and I loved every moment.

“I am happy. You no die. Let’s save planets!”

Start to finish, Project Hail Mary is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat read with lots of smart science and some unforgettable characters, as well as an ending that… well, I won’t say, but WOW.

I’m over the moon (ha! space joke!) after having read Project Hail Mary. This is going to be THE hot book for May — don’t miss it!

**********

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

  1. Oh goodness, at first this seemed to be about a UFO kidnapping! 😂 But then I read on and understood this is more of a research group out to save the human race… I have watched the movie Martian, but not read the book, and I confess that I am not a huge fan of the movie. Was the book very different from the movie? And is Hail Mary very different from Martian?

    • In the book of The Martian, it goes much more in-depth in the science of everything the main character does — how he calculates what he needs, formulas, math, concepts, etc. I thought it was fascinating! This book is still very science-heavy, in terms of us seeing how he carries out calculations and experiments, so it’s similar in that way. It depends on your tolerance for that kind of approach, I guess.

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