I bring you a book by a writer who has become very well known, thanks to his sci-fi novels and to the film adaptations.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this “propulsive” (Entertainment Weekly) new science-based thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.
“An epic story of redemption, discovery and cool speculative sci-fi.”—USA Today
“If you loved The Martian, you’ll go crazy for Weir’s latest.”—The Washington Post
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, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.
Or does he?
An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, 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.
ANDY WEIR built a two-decade career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full-time.
He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of such subjects as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail.
He lives in California.
I am grateful to NetGalley and to Penguin-Random House UK (Cornerstone Digital) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel which I freely chose to review.
I have read and enjoyed the two novels Andy Weir has published before, and I am a fan of his first, The Martian, which I’ve recommended to many people I thought would enjoy it (especially those with a scientific and curious mind, and who don’t mind a first-person narrative from somebody with a goofy sense of humour and full of references to pop culture).
And I loved this book as well. It shares many of the characteristics of The Martian: a geeky protagonist (this time a biologist who after some disappointments with the reception of his research left academia to become a science teacher), who ends up isolated and trying to survive in a strange environment, although this time what is at stake goes beyond his own life, as he discovers that he is on a mission vital for the survival of planet Earth. There is a lot of emphasis on science, and we get to share in Grace’s experiments, theories, and discoveries, and as this is also a first-person narration, we get to experience his hopes and disappointments first-hand. The protagonist also has quite a sharp sense of humour and does not spend a lot of time moping around, despite (or perhaps because of) his peculiar circumstances. He does have the odd moment when he becomes overwhelmed by his feelings or his nostalgia, but he is pretty stoic the majority of the time, and most of his deep thinking is dedicated to solving problems, rather than to thinking about himself or his personal life, which we don’t know a lot about.
There are also things that are quite different. He has been in a coma for over four years, and he is suffering from amnesia when the novel starts, and that means he is a prime example of the unreliable narrator. He cannot even remember his name, and his theories and assumptions are not limited to his experiments, but cover also his previous life and the circumstances that brought him to the mission. The contemporary narration is interrupted at times by flashes of memory, and we get to know him and discover things about him at the same rate as he does, so he becomes progressively less unreliable, but that means there are surprises that are kept from all of us until the very end (or close enough). As I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot, but I think most people will get a clear idea about it from the description. I can say, though, that Grace develops and grows throughout the novel and as tends to be the case with first-person narratives, he has been changed by the experience.
Grace is the main protagonist, but as the novel progresses and his memory returns, we get to meet a few other people, mostly those involved in the Project Hail Mary (Hail Mary is the name of the spaceship), evidently from Grace’s point of view. Due to the scale of the threat to humanity, the whole world has come together, and therefore the experts and the crew involved in the project are a truly international bunch, from Chinese astronauts to Russian experts with a sense of humour, and even an Australian businessman/conman. I quite liked Stratt, the woman in charge of the whole enterprise, a Dutch polyglot, who is a force to be reckoned with and who proves to be a superb judge of character, and although we don’t get to share so much time with the others, they are all interesting and help add more context and texture to the novel. My favourite, though, must be Rocky and the relationship that develops between the two, but I can’t tell you more about that. (I love Rocky! He rocks!) The themes of cooperation and teamwork, selfishness and selflessness, morality and the greater good (how far would you go to save the planet and would individual sacrifice be justified?), cultural prejudices and assumptions, communication and acceptance of alternative and different lifestyles, the nature of life in the universe… are among those that inform much of what happens in the novel, but this is not a heavy-handed and didactic text trying to hammer any “deep messages” into the readers’ minds. It is a novel full of adventures (even if many of those are scientific in nature), as optimistic in its outlook as its protagonist, and one that is bound to make most readers smile.
The rhythm of the book flows and ebbs, as things move slowly at times and at others very quickly (we hear a lot about relativity, and this applies to the way time passes for the characters as well). I have mentioned the science speak, and I suspect it might put some people off, but although I’m not a big expert on the topics touched upon in the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the experiments and the scientific basis for them, and even when I couldn’t follow every single detail, that did not hamper my understanding of the story or my enjoyment of the adventures, because the overall plot was always clear enough. The language itself, apart from the science concepts, is pretty casual and the wit and sense of humour of the character make it quite a fun read. (It is also fairly mild, so I can’t imagine a lot of people would find it offensive in the least, but I know this is a subjective thing.) As usual, I advise people thinking about buying the book to check a sample of the writing to see if they think they would enjoy it.
Here I leave you a few examples from very early in the novel, when the character is still trying to work out who he is:
“Holy moly”? Is that my go-to expression of surprise? I mean, it’s okay, I guess. I would have expected something a little less 1950s. What kind of weirdo am I?
What the fudge is going on?!
Fudge? Seriously? Maybe I have young kids. Or I’m deeply religious.
I like kids. Huh. Just a feeling. But I like them. They’re cool. They’re fun to hang out with.
So I’m a single man in my thirties, who lives alone in a small apartment, I don’t have any kids, but I like kids a lot. I don’t like where this is going…
A teacher! I’m a schoolteacher! I remember it now!
Oh, thank God. I’m a teacher.
I have talked about the overall optimism of the novel, and although I don’t want to reveal the specifics, I can say that I loved the ending. Some readers might have expected something different, but I think most people will appreciate it as much as I did.
So, unless you are extremely put off by science, can’t stand spaceships and/or survival stories, and want to avoid anything that speculates of future disasters, I’d recommend you this novel. It is fun, it is hopeful, it has a sense of humour, it has some delightful and touching moments and some sad and hair-raising ones as well, it is full of scientific titbits, and it is a feel-good novel. Oh, and there is Rocky. You must all meet Rocky.
Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling! Stay safe!