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: 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.


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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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2021


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2021.

I highlighted some of the upcoming releases I’m most excited for in my winter TBR post from a couple of weeks ago — but it’s always fun to look ahead and make even more reading plans! So, here are ten MORE books releasing between now and the end of June that I’m super excited to read.

  1. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (2/2)
  2. A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel (2/2)
  3. Later by Stephen King (3/2)
  4. An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6) by Deanna Raybourn (3/2)
  5. Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman (4/6)
  6. Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian (4/20)
  7. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (5/4)
  8. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (5/11)
  9. The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (5/18)
  10. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (5/25)

What new releases are you most looking forward to in 2021? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.


I suppose I should acknowledge up front that it was practically impossible that Andy Weir’s second novel would measure up to his hugely successful first novel, The Martian. I mean, The Martian was amazing, plain and simple. It was fresh, it was new, it was smart, and it was highly entertaining.

So how does an author follow up such a tremendous hit?

Well, in this case, with a book that’s fun and light, but feels a little too familiar to really leave much of a mark.

In Artemis, Jazz (short for Jasmine) is a criminal-lite — she smuggles contraband while working as a porter, plans to become a wealthy EVA (extravehicular activity) tour guide, and meanwhile works odd jobs that are not quite legit in order to pay for her coffin-like bed chamber. (Calling it an apartment would be way overselling it.) Jazz seems to be well-connected, and while avoiding getting on the bad side of what passes for the law in Artemis, she drinks, avoids her observant Muslim father, and is something of a wise-ass.

When a mega-rich tycoon offers her a million slugs (moon currency) to carry out a dangerous, shady bit of sabotage, she sees a way to finally pay off some long-standing debts and improve her standard of living, but of course, nothing goes as planned. And when that escapade turns into a fiasco, she’s pulled into a worsening situation that involves murder, organized crime, and even more dangerous missions. If Jazz is caught, she’ll face deportation back to Earth, which would absolutely suck for her, since she’s lived on the moon since age six and wouldn’t be able to handle Earth’s gravity.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. Jazz is a survivor, and she manages to get on people’s bad sides constantly, and yet charms them into helping her anyway. She comes up with some clever plans, but naturally what ever can go wrong, does go wrong.

The book reads like a moon-based heist caper, like Ocean’s Eleven in a space bubble. We’ve got a scrappy gang applying their various skills to pull off one big job, making millions, disrupting a bunch of bad guys, and making sure that their little world ends up better than it started. Sure, there’s science and space involved — instead of robbing a casino, for example, here they’re trying to blow up a smelting plant, but it’s the same basic idea.

It all feels familiar somehow. As a science fiction reader, I’ve read other books about life on other planets with humans living in biospheres. I’ve seen plenty of caper flicks. So yes, putting those elements together is fun, and Artemis is definitely entertaining, but it doesn’t have that outrageous spark that powered The Martian.

Jazz herself is a bit problematic, verging on tokenism. Kudos for putting a Muslim woman in the main character role, and certainly her relationship with her father and the conflict between his beliefs and her approach to life are interesting — but she seems very cookie cutter to me. I didn’t get a feel for who she is beneath the surface facts — independent, mid-twenties, rebellious, daring… but when, for example, she ends up kissing one of the male characters toward the end of the book, it was completely out of the blue. I had no idea she had any interest in him, but it’s just that kind of story where you know the main character has to have a love interest, and the only question is which of the available characters will be it.

I enjoyed the time spent reading Artemis, but at the same time, it’s not a book that will stick with me now that I’m done. Still, I like Andy Weir’s writing and use of science to tell a story, and look forward to seeing what he does next.


The details:

Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley








Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

martianThis is yet another book that makes me want to write a review that simply says:

Loved it. Read this book.

But that’s not terribly helpful, is it? Unless you trust me so very much that you’re willing to take my word for it, just because. No? Okay, I’ll tell you just what I loved about this smart, funny, dramatic, and utterly entertaining book.

As you’d guess from the cover image, The Martian is the story of an astronaut. Mark Watney is part of a crew of astronauts participating in NASA’s third manned exploration of Mars. Six days into their mission, a massive dust storm prompts an evacuation of the planet, during which Mark is struck by flying debris and believed to be dead. With only minutes to spare before their emergency launch, the mission leader makes the tough call to leave Mark’s body and get the heck off the planet. The world mourns.

Surprise! Mark isn’t dead… but he may be soon. Mark is the sole human on all of Mars, left with the mission’s habitation structure and equipment, a 100-something day food supply, and no means of communication or rescue. The next mission to Mars won’t arrive for another four years. So what’s Mark to do? He has no intention of giving up, and sets about figuring just what it will take to breathe, drink water, and not starve to death in the years he’ll have to wait before he has a shot at returning to Earth.

When NASA finally realizes, thanks to satellite imagery, that they left a very much alive Mark behind, the entire world becomes obsessed with Mark’s survival, and it takes all the brains of NASA and then some, plus the determination of Mark’s crewmates, to figure out a rescue plan with any chance of success.

Ultimately, though, it’s all up to Mark and his incredible brain. As with all NASA missions, the crew members serve multiple roles, and Mark is the mission’s botanist/mechanical engineer. With his knowledge of botany, Mark figures out how to grow crops to sustain himself when the stored food runs out, and with his engineering skills, he’s able to jerry-rig solutions whenever equipment breaks — which is often.

You’d think a book in which the main character spends time calculating the square footage of arable soil needed to produce enough calories for survival or figuring out how to use rocket fuel to create water might get a little weighed down by science-speak… but you’d be dead wrong. I’ve never been more fascinating by geeky science talk. Stuff like this:

I can create the O2 easily enough. It takes twenty hours for the MAV fuel plant to fill its 10-liter tank with CO2. The oxygenator can turn it into the O2, then the atmospheric regulator will see the O2 content in the Hab is high, and pull it out of the air, storing it in the main O2 tanks. They’ll fill up, so I’ll have to transfer O2 over to the rovers’ tanks and even the space suit tanks as necessary.

The point is, the narration here is super-smart yet super engaging. Mark is in battle for survival — but he’s so extremely funny that even in his direst of straits, there’s plenty to make you laugh. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and half the fun is seeing how crazily creative Mark’s solutions are.

One thing I learned after reading The Martian is that author Andy Weir created his own programming in order to figure out things like trajectories and orbits, and his need to make sure that the science works results in a book that’s full of compelling and weird details — which, strangely, don’t weigh down the narrative, but instead let us feel like we’re right there next to Mark, trying to figure out how to rig a heat supply without blowing things up. (I loved Entertainment Weekly’s recent write-up about Andy Weir – check it out here.)

Bottom line? I loved this book. With never a dull moment, The Martian is a treat for the brain as well as providing plenty of laughs along with true suspense and a nail-biting battle for survival. Mark’s voice is what makes reading The Martian such a fun experience, so I’ll leave you with a few choice selections from the logs of astronaut Mark Watney:

If you asked every engineer at NASA what the worst scenario for the Hab was, they’d all answer “fire”. If you asked them what the result would be, they’d answer “death by fire.”

About the e-mails that come pouring in once the world realizes Mark is alive:

One of them was from my alma mater, the University of Chicago. They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially “colonized” it. So technically, I colonized Mars.

In your face, Neil Armstrong!

In other news, it’s seven sols till the harvest, and I still haven’t prepared. For starters, I need to make a hoe. Also, I need to make an outdoor shed for the potatoes. I can’t just pile them up outside. The next major storm would case the Great Martian Potato Migration.

The airlock’s on its side, and I can hear a steady hiss. So either it’s leaking or there are snakes in here. Either way, I’m in trouble.

If you at all enjoy reading about space exploration, scientific discoveries, or incredibly inventive men with senses of humor, read The Martian!


The details:

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: 2014
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased