I’ve read all of Andy Weir’s books. He’s written three so that’s not exactly a major achievement, but it does give me the opportunity to compare and contrast them. Like most people I enjoyed The Martian but did not care very much for Artemis (which, well-intentioned though it may be, is a textbook example of how not to write a strong female character). I loved Project Hail Mary, though with a couple of caveats. But hey, that’s what reviews are for.
First up: it’s really hard to review this book without spoilers. I’ll keep them to a minimum but beware: mild spoilers.
Ryland Grace finds himself waking up on a spaceship with no idea what exactly has happened to him, what he’s supposed to do or even who he is. His crewmates are dead and all he has for company are two robot arms who come down from the ceiling to feed him. Soon, he discovers he is aboard the Hail Mary – a ship sent out in a last ditch effort to save mankind. And now it all comes down to Ryland.
I’m not much of an SF-reader and I’m definitely not a scientist – my knowledge basically begins and ends with having twice read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – which made the book hard to follow at times. Ultimately that didn’t really hinder my understanding of the plot, though I did end up skipping some bits of it. I still don’t fully understand how Astrophage work. Sometimes things felt just a little too convenient; every time a problem arose it was fixed in a heartbeat with some conveniently newly discovered gimmick. And some things, like Ryland communicating with a friend he meets along the way, would be far more complicated than it is here, which irks me a little because linguistics is pretty hard science yet somehow still gets snowed under. Aside from that, the novel does require some major suspense of disbelief in places; I’m sure people who know more about physics and chemistry than I do can comment in detail on that, but it’s down to the real world facts too. For instance, the world’s governments get together to assign a woman named Stratt (she’s never given a first name, or much of a personality aside from ‘tough’) and give her unlimited budget and authority. That would never happen in the first place; humanity would probably wither and die before all the world’s governments would get their asses in line. There’s a frankly ludicrous courtroom scene which… No, just no. That’s not how ANY of that works.
As for characters, Ryland is likeable enough. He’s basically a somewhat more cowardly and less experienced Mark Watney. He’s witty and committed. He does a lot of crying but hey, if I’d wake up alone in a spaceship I’d cry a lot too. His rapport with his new friend is sweet and their mutual giddiness about one another is touching and fairly hilarious. Other than that, though, Ryland mostly functions as a plot device. He doesn’t have much personality. Also, for someone who’s been teaching middle school for years he’s way too optimistic about his profession (I say that as a teacher with 12+ years of experience) and he’s really uncreative about naming things, though I could see why that may not have been his priority.
Aside from the long list of minor quibbles I had, I really did enjoy this book. It’s sweet, it’s creative, it’s exciting and tense and touching. I had a busy week otherwise I would’ve finished it in one or two sittings. If you like science fiction and you’re looking for a fun read, then this is the book for you. Just don’t focus on the minutiae too much.