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, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery–and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.Or does he?
An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, 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.
Sometimes endings are illusory, meaning they only are endings at that given time. But sometimes passion and raw ambition found at our core could make us decide otherwise, or work to resurrect what was once thought dead or defunct. It is fitting to resurrect this blog space with the first review being a science-fiction thriller entitled Project Hail Mary, written by Andy Weir, known for the book The Martian that was adapted into a film several years ago. This is my very first exposure to any of Andy Weir’s works, having only heard of the general premise of The Martian right around the time the film was released. Aside from that hype, the book existed on the periphery because the book never interested me in the least bit.
Coming into Project Hail Mary, I had a number of preconceived ideas as to the style of science fiction this book will be: one heavy on the stereotypically hollow machismo of the main male character, lack of any real thoughtful/sensitive exploration of ethical themes, etc, and worst of all, overindulgent hard science descriptions enough to leave me feeling completely apathetic about whatever is going on in the book. All these things were ultimately proven wrong (except for some of the hard science stuff, which you can read more about below), this book was very nearly the antithesis of all my expectations.
Instead I discovered a thoughtful, sometimes deeply engaging thriller that has a nice balance of quiet/somber moments fused with thrilling/fear-inducing life-and-death sequences. There is also the aura of mystery surrounding so much of the book’s story, to the extent that I am refraining from including plot-specific stuff, in an effort to leave the book’s mysteries undisturbed for the reader interested in this book. At the book’s center is a deep, almost reverent appreciation for the universe, an acceptance of the paradoxes and scientific mysteries beyond the scope of our current knowledge, but also a very logical, well-conceived scientific hypothesis a storyline that still explores issues that is squarely in the territory of science fiction. Andy Weir dabbles in reasonable creativity, lending to even more suspension of disbelief from the reader.
Only one thing detracts from this story, and it is the excesses/occasional verbosity of the longwinded passages of hard science. In my perspective, as someone who prefers my sci-fi focused more on the sociological exploration of different forms of hypothetical extraterrestrial life (including one of my favorites, the Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler), these techy-laden scenes could get very tedious very fast. There is only so much I can read when it comes to worth technical descriptions. These descriptions feel like indulgent accessories to the main story; some authors wax eloquent with architectural/environmental details, whereas Weir loves doing the same with hard science. And perhaps the type of reader preferring that expects this from his novels, so this is only a purely subjective take of mine, someone who rarely reads science fiction heavy on the technical stuff, fearing the inevitable feeling of becoming mentally unglued from the story.
To be fair to Weir, Weir certainly has a Michio Kaku skill in translating the otherwise inscrutable into a more palatable language for the reader without as much science background, so I definitely felt I could lean more into the novel, gleaning the essentials without feeling the need to agonizingly parse every sentence, in fear that it may rob me of deeper enjoyment of the book down-the-road. So my slight criticism can really be construed as a strength- depending on how you look at it. Perhaps Weir knowingly writes in such a way, respecting the reader who may not want to wade too deeply in the technical stuff, it shows Weir is extremely self-aware as a writer, and this is perhaps the reason why he holds such a wide readership because he writes nebulous scientific content in a way that can be understood by any reader regardless of their science background.
The prevailing theme of an otherwise excellent sci-fi book- hard science garnish aside- is the unapologetic championing of a moral hero who is not a warrior by default, but rather a very intelligent, very ethically-minded character, hugely refreshing, and really, the only type of character that makes sense with the right psyche needed to handle rigorous scientific predicaments. There are no action sequences, in the sense of hand-to-hand combat, found anywhere in this book. Instead there are sequences of suspenseful sojourns into the exciting world of experimentation. The entire book can read like a large scientific hypothesis, and it can also be a cautionary tale for today’s politicians who misuse science for unethical gains and pure greed, neglecting science’s noble equanimity, a calmness of mind that accepts our precarious, sometimes inane place in an ever-expanding universe riddled with paradox and all. Science is meant to be agnostic in the sense of being adaptable in mind to rapid change, the intellectual humility to accept that your prized theory may be a cognitive dissonance preventing you from mentally accepting a new revelation about reality. These things are essential to the character’s survival, and it is a propensity towards humility tempered with the urgency of his task that drives a majority of the novel. Also an increasingly relevant commentary as well about how we as a world need to view the impending crisis of climate change as a very real existential threat that demands us a species to look past our xenophobia, our ignorance, our tribalism in order to productively avert disaster. There are so many other ample scenes of other fascinating developments/thought-provoking concepts in this novel sorely needed in our public discourse. But I swore not to to delve into those things to spare you spoilers. All these things-and so much more- lie in store for the reader of this excellent sci-fi book that somehow transcends the own rigid orthodox qualities of its genre.
If you’ve read the book, or looking to read it, feel free to leave any comments below about this book or even other recommendations. Even if you outright detested this novel, for whatever reason, feel free to express your thoughts below. As always, I encourage anyone to feel free to form their own opinion of any book. The comment thread is a safe place for opinions.
Be also on the lookout for another perspective of this book from Dani Hoots (an author herself), who I’m happy to announce is rejoining the Bibliophile Reverie team. Any of her content will be reposted on her own author pages, and I have already granted her full permission to do-so.
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