‘Project Hail Mary’ is the latest science fiction book by Andy Weir, most famous for writing ‘The Martian’. It’s an audacious book, packing in a huge amount of science alongside Weir’s typical humour and witty characters. There are a few minor niggles, but overall this is an excellent, well-balanced story. Fans of ‘The Martian’, and of science fiction in general, should find plenty to enjoy.
A very long way from Earth, a man wakes up. To his surprise, he can’t remember his own name – but that’s almost insignificant when he figures out he’s stranded on a spaceship with only two dead crewmates for company. As his memories start to return, he starts to remember an extinction-level threat to humanity – and he realises succeeding at his mission is the only possible way to prevent it. Too bad he can’t remember what that mission is right now. Against all the odds, he’s determined to figure out what he has to do – after all, he’s the only one out here in space. Isn’t he?
The book contains several distinct arcs, with variable pacing, but each flows smoothly and feels engaging. The first, the protagonist figuring out his own identity, is the slowest. There’s a great deal of exposition, but the reader and the protagonist are figuring everything out together, creating a strong sense of empathy. Weir also drops in little nuggets of humour, adding lightness to what can otherwise be long and difficult scenes. By the time the protagonist – Ryland – comes to understand his own identity, the reader has been granted all the basic scene setting, and the story thus transitions smoothly into the next arc – an intriguing direction which would be a spoiler to discuss.
Ryland is very reminiscent of Mark Watney, the protagonist of ‘The Martian’, but also has his own idiosyncracies. He’s an optimistic pessimist, outwardly light-hearted and funny, but also plagued by deep-seated negative thoughts. Endlessly practical and incredibly smart, he figures out most problems surprisingly easily – although he has a tendency to overwork and sometimes overlooks things staring him in the face. He’s impossible not to like, and while he isn’t perfect he has a good heart and tries to do the right thing.
This is a very sciencey book, with a lot of complex physics thrown in. I can’t pretend to understand every aspect, but whilst Weir stretches the boundaries of plausibility he still keeps everything the right side of believable. It’s definitely a book aimed at readers of hard science fiction – for those without basic knowledge of science, sections may read a little like a semi-accurate textbook. The jargon is all explained but, in order to strike the right balance between giving enough information and avoiding info-dumping, a little accessibility is probably lost. I’ll be interested to read the reviews of complete non-scientists to see how they find it, especially the physics component.
Weir should also be credited for his imagination. In some ways, ‘Project Hail Mary’ is much like ‘The Martian’, with a man on a mission alone in space – but beyond the basic premise, there’s a vast divergence. ‘The Martian’ contained a great deal of creative and complex science fiction. ‘Project Hail Mary’ goes even further, showing off the diversity of space and the potential that offers. Its hard to discuss this in detail without giving anything away, but I’m impressed.
My main minor issues lie with the humour. Mostly, this works really well, adding lightness to heavier scenes and depth to Ryland’s character. However, in places, it just comes across crass. There are a couple of scenes with random references to sex, presumably for comedic value, but it just comes across awkward and threatens immersion and believability. However, the story is otherwise gripping and clever, and its still easy to enjoy even with a few odd scenes.
Overall, ‘Project Hail Mary’ is an excellent science fiction novel, combining hard science with an engaging story and likeable characters. Recommended for fans of Weir’s previous work, but also all fans of hard science fiction, creative worldbuilding, and stories with light humour.
Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review
Published by Del Rey
Hardback: 4th May 2021