Review: Andy Weir's 'Project Hail Mary' is an out-of-this-world tale of science and friendship
In an Andy Weir novel, space is both the coolest and most frightening landscape ever, and with “Project Hail Mary,” the modern sci-fi master sends a lone astronaut on an intergalactic mission with existential stakes and a winning sense of humor.
A cosmic cross between “Memento,” “Arrival” and “The Right Stuff,” the newest book (Ballantine, 482 pp., ★★★1/2 out of four) from “The Martian” author centers on the sole survivor of a spaceship sent to save humanity and puts him through his paces in a complex, science-filled story that’s also about empathy and friendship found in the most unlikely of places.
Ryland Grace wakes up with a nasty round of amnesia after coming out of an induced coma, not knowing where he is and wondering why a robotic arm is feeding and caring for him. He starts to regain movement, gets his wits about him and notices a couple of dead bodies in his vicinity. Ryland starts to recall his situation that slowly unravels in flashbacks interspersed throughout "Hail Mary."
'Project Hail Mary': Check out an exclusive excerpt from Andy Weir's latest sci-fi novel
A former molecular biologist and disgraced academic who's now a popular middle-school science teacher, Ryland has been sent to the solar system of the star Tau Ceti to figure out a way to save Earth. A strange light is discovered between our sun and Venus, the sun's dimming due to lowering temperature, and the culprits are microorganisms that threaten to send the globe eventually into a deadly ice age. (Thankfully, this same space algae has also been harnessed as fuel for Ryland’s world-saving trip.)
Ryland faces plenty of stressful moments, white-knuckle piloting maneuvers, experiments gone wrong and twists that keep things interesting for him (and readers). Fortunately, he’s not alone in the universe: Ryland meets a fellow traveler, an alien he nicknames Rocky (because of his protective shell and metallic-based anatomy), tasked with a similar assignment and ticking clock for his species. The twosome figure out how to communicate and help each other, and the bond they form is the highlight of “Hail Mary,” as an unexpected hard-science buddy comedy breaks out in the middle of a disaster-movie scenario.
Weir’s parallel story line structure mostly works: Ryland’s work to figure out the best way to neutralize the effects of the destructive “astrophage” runs on one track while the other explains how he ended up there in the first place, recruited by a no-nonsense woman bringing together all the governments and space programs for one rather improbable shot to save mankind. The beginning backstory and later revelations about the days leading up to launch are essential and clever bits of character development, though in the middle of the book, the past sometimes disrupts the momentum of Ryland and Rocky’s team-building exercises and bonding as ride-or-die science bros.
“Hail Mary” has the same strong storytelling as “The Martian” and if you dug Weir’s original self-published hit or the Oscar-nominated Matt Damon film, get ready to enjoy this, too. Weir’s well-crafted book is an epic story of redemption, discovery and cool speculative sci-fi made all the better with a couple of perfect strangers turned BFFs.