Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 476
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, 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.

My Review:

Project Hail Mary is, quite possibly, the ultimate in competence porn stories. Or at least the best such book since The Martian, also, of course, by the same author.

I sense a theme here.

In order to enjoy Project Hail Mary, I think that the reader has to really like stories about people who are good at their jobs demonstrating exactly how good they are, which is the essence of competence porn. (If you prefer watching people flounder, fail and screw up, this is not your book.)

It also feels like it’s absolutely necessary for a reader to like science in order to really get suck in this story. I don’t think one has to be an expert – I’m certainly not and I loved the heck out of this – but the reader has to enjoy reading about science and engineering and discovery and believe that science is real and that it can provide real and verifiable solutions to real problems.

But expertise is not required because a lot of the story is about a scientist and an engineer teaching each other how their specialties work, and how both of their extremely different cultures work, so that they can work together on sciencing the shit out of the problem that is staring both of them in the face.

That teaching aspect – very much the way that Sophie’s World “taught” people about philosophy by telling stories about it – turned out to not just be a fascinating way of telling the story but also way more appropriate and resonant than I was expecting at the beginning.

This is a story with two beginnings. It begins with a man waking up from a coma, chased and coddled by giant robot arms, not knowing who he is or how he got to be in the fix he’s currently in.

And it begins several years in the past, when humanity learns that the sun, our sun, is cooling off, not just measurably but rapidly, and that we have a mere 30 years to fix the problem before Earth faces its “sixth extinction” and takes us with it.

As the two storylines catch up to each other, and the man waking up from the coma remembers how he got stuck with the job of fixing what’s wrong with the sun, leading him to waking up in a tiny spaceship cruising in the Tau Ceti system, along with two dead teammates and a ship full of scientific instruments, we get caught up and caught up in the past and the present of Dr. Ryland Grace, humanity’s last, best hope for survival.

Even if he won’t live to see it.

Escape Rating A+: I pulled this book out of the middle of the towering TBR pile because I’m in the middle of a replay of Mass Effect: Andromeda and was looking for something SFnal to read to go along with my playthrough.

And this book has been recommended to the skies (ha-ha) so it seemed like a good choice. I had no idea that the opening scenes of Project Hail Mary were going to bear such a strong resemblance to the opening scenes of the game, waking up from a coma and trying to figure out which end is up in a situation that has gone even more pear-shaped than it was when the protagonist went to sleep.

Ryland Grace is in a much bigger fix than Pathfinder Ryder and the Andromeda Initiative, but comparisons can definitely be drawn.

Howsomever, the stories that Project Hail Mary most resembles, beyond any obvious similarities to The Martian – which I’ve seen but not read and clearly need to read – are Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series (start with The Calculating Stars) and Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate.

The Lady Astronaut series also features an Earth that is facing an extinction-level event and a desperate international effort to save the species before the planet kills us. (There’s also a surprising bit of a resemblance to some of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series in the way that the leader of Project Hail Mary cuts through bureaucratic red tape with a machete!) To Be Taught features a similar story about a tiny crew doing good science and facing seemingly impossible odds for a home that can never be theirs again, so poignantly similar to Ryland Grace’s situation.

But the surprising difference, and the absolute charm of Project Hail Mary is that Grace does not, after all, face his situation alone, even though he’s the only surviving human on his tiny ship. Twelve light-years from home, Ryland Grace finds a kindred spirit in the place he absolutely least expected, against all the odds.

The heart and soul of Project Hail Mary is not about the plucky human scientist saving the day. It’s about a human scientist and an Erid engineer, who can’t even breathe each other’s air, reaching out to each other using the only language they have in common, the language of science.  Because it’s going to take both of them and every ounce of ingenuity they both possess to save both of their worlds.

So this story that started out as a science and engineering story still turns out to be about the beauty of science – but at its heart it’s about finding friendship in the most unlikely place of all.

And that’s beautiful – right up to and including the ending which gave me the sniffles. It was just a bit bittersweet and so very, very right.

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