Project Hail Mary delivers in every way
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Genre: Sci Fi
Published May 2021, 476 pages
Well - that 476 pages just flew by! If you're sometimes reluctant to pick up a longer book because it seems like too much of a commitment, don't fret; this one reads so quickly you won't even notice that it's almost 500 pages!
If you read The Martian, also by Andy Weir, you have an idea of his style - heavy on math and science. This book is no exception. LOTS of both. Let it be said, I am NOT knowledgeable or particularly interested in either of those topics. I also admit to not really enjoying The Martian. In that case, the science was too overwhelming and, though the gentle humor throughout the book kept me reading, it wasn't enough to save the book for me. I rated it a 3. (But the movie with Matt Damon was excellent and made me rethink the book a bit.)
Consequently, I was a little reluctant to read this book, but when a couple of people whose opinions I value encouraged me to read it, I gave in. And, even with ALL the outer space math/science underpinning everything, I found I didn't really have to understand it all to love this story. I understood it enough to get the gist of what was happening without ever internalizing any of the scientific details.
“Do you believe in God? I know it’s a personal question. I do. And I think He was pretty awesome to make relativity a thing, don’t you? The faster you go, the less time you experience. It’s like He’s inviting us to explore the universe, you know?”
The story of Project Hail Mary revolves around Ryland, the sole survivor on a spaceship from Earth, who comes out of an induced coma with no idea where he is or how he got there. Gradually the backstory is filled in through flashbacks as his memory returns. Much like Mark in The Martian, he has a specific scientific skillset that enables him to survive and to figure out what to do even when he doesn't know the answer. Instead of a botany specialist, Ryland is a scientist who understands cellular structure and more that escaped me.
“I penetrated the outer cell membrane with a nanosyringe."
"You poked it with a stick?"
"No!" I said. "Well. Yes. But it was a scientific poke with a very scientific stick.”
When Ryland remembers that he's in space on a mission to save Earth and figures out how to guide the spaceship where it's supposed to go, he encounters ....... another spaceship. And that's when the story really picks up steam. No spoilers here, but the alien he meets and befriends adds such a great dimension to the story that was absent in The Martian and I absolutely loved it.
There is excellent world building in describing the interior of the spaceship, outer space, and all aspects of interacting with the alien and learning about that planet. I have no idea if the science of it all actually would work or not, and I don't care. It felt believable. What I did love is the trope of the unlikely hero who struggles against insurmountable odds.
Filled with a touch of philosophy, a strong dose of quiet humor (enough to keep me smiling), empathy, an unlikely hero, and an even more unlikely friendship, this is a book to treasure.
*astronaut photo via Pixabay @ Pexels.com