With a title like ‘Project Hail Mary’, you figure that whatever stakes there are in the story, they must be high. And for this story in particular, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Our sun is dying. Energy – the literal light is being leeched by an interstellar bacteria dubbed astrophage, feeding off of our star’s light. The sun dims at the same rate as astrophage brightens. No one knows anything about this new threat. How does it feed? How does it breed, and most importantly: where did it come from?
Only one thing is certain: the consequences of the sun’s dimming will be devastating. Global collapse of the world’s agricultural systems. Ecological devastation. War. Civil unrest. Pestilence.
The only way to have a fighting chance at saving Earth is to follow the astrophage back to their home planet, study it, and see what its weakness is. It’s a one-way journey. Here’s the synopsis:
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.
One of the (many) successes of this book is that regardless of what is going on in the story, there is a constant sense of dread. Weir is particularly gifted at making it very clear how many ways this mission will likely go sideways, either on Earth or out in space. Every second that Grace takes to determine his surroundings means one more second of potential chaos on Earth. And time is running out quickly.
Project Hail Mary was very difficult to put down, as there was always something new and exciting that made me want to read more. The stakes were unbelievably high (saving the Earth and all human kind? No biggie). And reading about the science was really interesting.
Now, as a non-science person myself, I really appreciated how Weir explained very difficult concepts (well, difficult to me at least) in a really approachable way. Weir is a devout space nerd and hobbyist, and it shows in the quality of the writing that he indeed did a lot of research to make this book seems as fluid as it is. It made the story that much more realistic, and even if I didn’t grasp every scientific concept brushed upon in the book, I understood enough to follow along with the story and see the impact.
This book was an automatic five-star read for me. The story is told in two timelines: the present, where Grace is on the Hail Mary, and the past, which come in the form of burst of his memories. These memories also happen to contextualize what is happening in the present, and I found it a brilliant way to show the reader what happened, without telling them outright. The back and forth also did a great job in cranking up the tension, especially as it becomes clear that Earth’s position is even more dire than initially thought.
And, without giving any spoilers…the ending of the book was one of the most beautiful I’ve read in a long time. I teared up a bit reading those last few pages, and was completely taken by surprise.
Now, ‘cons’ is a strong word for me being really nitpicky about a few things in an otherwise fantastic book. But every work has parts that aren’t as strong as the whole.
Ryland Grace is a multi-dimensional character, and the flashbacks peel away aspects of his personality in a really elegant and thoughtfully executed way. One of Weir’s strengths as a writer is creating main characters that are easy to relate to.
Now, on to the ‘but’: For all of Ryland Grace’s personality traits, he reads very much like Mark Watney, the main character of Weir’s debut science fiction novel The Martian. They share near identical types of humour and react very similarly to different situations. Personally, I didn’t care much, since I enjoyed reading The Martian and liked the humor injected into the story. But I do concede that it might annoy readers.
Another nitpicky thing with some of the tertiary characters from Earth in the story is that they sometimes come across as a little one-dimensional according to their nationality. For example, Russians enjoying vodka, or Canadians being unabashedly positive. These are characters who do not appear for very long, and for whom it wouldn’t make sense to delve into their backstories for longer than necessary. But, it’s something important to mention.
If you enjoy science fiction stories, dystopias, or epic adventures, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Project Hail Mary ASAP. You won’t regret it!