Andy Weir creates a science fiction masterwork in Project Hail Mary. It deserves to be on every “Best of 2021” list, particularly the audiobook lists. There’s copious science within this adventure story among the stars of a distant galaxy. And also considerably more heart than I expected.
Our hero is Ryland Grace. As the book opens, his biggest problem is remembering literally everything after waking up on a ship hurtling through space. And the more he puts the pieces together, the more he realizes his mission is saving Earth.
Sounds like typical science fiction, but the voice Weir creates in Grace is unique. He’s witty, wry, and vastly smarter than this reader. But Weir and Grace never talk down to us mere mortals. They explain all the science without causing dozing. In fact, the specifics of each crisis are more complex and fascinating than the last. How Grace ever comes down from an adrenaline rush I’ll never know.
Saying more about the plot would mean spoilers, which I avoid like the proverbial plague. I’ll just say this plot is inventive. We follow two tracks in Grace’s mind: today and the past as he begins to remember it. As such, the characters include various folks from the team of scientists who sent Grace to space. And definitely a few unexpected surprises.
Weir pulls all the plot lines together by the end, but some parts of the story read like a mystery since Grace lost so much memory. We don’t find out the entire story until Grace does, which heightened my reading pleasure.
Project Hail Mary is definitely at the top of my favorites list for 2021. My husband and I listened to it on a road trip last week, which increased the intensity. It’s rare for me to listen to audiobooks for 5-6 hours a day, but we did. By the end of the trip, we were practically talking in character voices. Huge props to Ray Porter, narrator extraordinaire. He makes everything come alive, particularly the scientific concepts.
Honestly, I’m not as much of a science fiction reader as a fantasy reader. The idea of being lost hopelessly in space isn’t innately exciting to me. But Weir takes that exact situation and injects it with suspense and thrills, while never forgetting that his main character’s very humanity is the key to unlocking the puzzles.
I absolutely recommend Project Hail Mary, whether you love science fiction or not. Definitely give it a try if you love science-related nonfiction too.
Pair with Kevin Cook’s tremendous history/biography, The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger Disaster. Or perhaps choose Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. I’m adding the second to my TBR right away!