I’m not a big reader of science fiction, but when I stumbled on The Martian by Andy Weir about six years ago I was more than pleasantly surprised. I loved that book. So, when I eagerly picked up his second book, Artemis, I was disappointed. Thus it was with some trepidation that I started reading Project Hail Mary (2021)–Weir’s latest novel set in space. Fortunately, I’m putting Project Hail Mary firmly in second place. It’s not nearly as good as The Martian, but it’s much better than Artemis.
Ryland Grace wakes up on a spaceship. There are two long-dead people on the beds next to him. He doesn’t know where he is, why he is there, or what’s happened to the others. Ryland slowly regains his memory in short flashbacks as he explores the ship and figures out what he needs to do. He discovers that he is on a desperate mission to save the Earth. There is a tiny organism that is eating up the energy of the sun. In a surprisingly short time, the Earth will be too cold for crops and there will be mass starvation, death, and upheaval. Their only chance is to travel millions of miles away to the one star that seems unaffected by the organism. If they can figure out what is saving that star, maybe they can use it to save their own star.
I liked this book. I found it interesting, and it kept me reading. Like The Martian, Ryland is faced with a number of obstacles that he has to “science” his way out of. I liked reading the science and the problem-solving that comes with it. I also enjoyed reading the flashbacks and found the discovery of the organism and the subsequent planning of Project Hail Mary absorbing. It was a way to introduce other people into the story. Finally, I did not anticipate where this book was going or where it ended up. I appreciate that it took me a little by surprise.
Unfortunately, I did feel that many of the characters felt a little flat. Ryland is another form of Mark Watney, but not quite as likable, and I did not feel much of a connection to any of the characters on Earth. I didn’t understand their motivations, and I didn’t really care when something happened to them. I also found a number of things in Project Hail Mary to be unbelievable,* which sometimes took me out of the story. On the whole, though, I found it entertaining and memorable.
I also just read that Ryan Gosling might star in the upcoming movie. I hope they do a good job with it because I’m going to be watching it.
*Things I found unbelievable (SPOILERS):
Ryland kept mentioning how buff he was in the beginning of the book, even though he’d been lying in bed in a coma for over three years. Apparently the computer medic had stimulated his muscles with electricity while he was asleep. I call bullshit. If this were a possibility, everyone would be using it because only masochists really like working out.
In addition, everything with Ryland’s new alien friend was a little too easy. It was more than convenient that Rocky could create anything he wanted with ease–and he had the materials for it in his ship. This included: an airtight tunnel to connect the two ships; a ten-kilometers long, unbreakable chain where he had already brought all the raw materials needed from his own ship; and an entirely new habitat in Ryland’s own spacecraft. These were necessary for the plot, but they took me out of the story a little bit.
Things being too easy with Rocky also included learning each other’s languages. I liked the discussion of how they initially communicated, but they were fluent in each other’s languages almost immediately. Learning languages is incredibly complicated and that’s here on Earth! When you have someone with nothing but different experiences than you, that would be reflected in the words/sounds. It would have taken a lot longer and been much more rudimentary.
The courtroom scene drove me crazy! I assumed that the science is somewhat believable because I don’t know much about science, but I am a lawyer. I’ve seen a number of trials and I know the Rules of Civil Procedure. Nothing about that courtroom scene made sense. The woman in charge of Project Hail Mary would not have shown up, by herself, in person. Her lawyers would have filed for a Motion to Dismiss long before trial. Jury selection is a long process that involves the judge and both sides. How could they already have a jury when the judge had not yet interacted with the Defendant? The paper she waves around apparently gives her immunity from criminal prosecution. But even if that paper was valid, this was a civil matter where it wouldn’t apply. Finally, why would companies care if one copy of their book was sent to space in order to save Earth? Is the whole point that publishing companies are pure evil? Drove me crazy!
Finally, Ryland Grace feels like a made-up hero name.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.