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Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Review Summary

Andy Weir's latest novel is a can't-put-down scifi read with lots to love for the science nerd and data lover...and a few unbelievable elements.

As usual, I'll try not to be spoilerish and definitely won't tell you the outcome of the novel, but I do discuss the premise and some mid-book elements in general ways and summarize a bit of the very first part of the book.

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Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2021
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Action & Adventure, Hard Science Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense
Pages: 496
Buy on Amazon
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four-half-stars

Publisher Synopsis:

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this incredible new science-based thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.
"A novel that would have delighted Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov."--George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones"Weir's finest work to date . . . the one book I read last year that I am certain I can recommend to anyone, no matter who, and know they'll love it."--Brandon Sanderson, author of the Stormlight Archive series

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.

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Project Hail Mary Book Review

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Authors are usually advised to draw in their readers with a “hook;” something that draws them right into the action and makes them keep reading. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (author of the book The Martian on which the movie with Matt Damon was based) has a good one.

Our protagonist, wakes up to find himself in a strange pod-shaped hospital bed contraption, intubated, and cared for by medical robots. In the same small space, two identical pods host the corpses of a man and a woman. His companions appear to have been in that state for some time. But he can’t remember them, along with his name or how he came to be in this strange place.

As our “hero” remembers more about who he is, why he is there, and what he needs to accomplish, we slowly learn his tale along with him.

Telling this story first-person, portioned out by the main character’s gradual recollections, works well. It adds to the suspense. A primary reason I gave this book 4.5 stars was because I found it difficult to put down and read it in about the course of a single day.

Our protagonist, I will divulge, is a scientist and a pretty gifted and creative one — which I am not. I endured college-level physics and chemistry courses and some more advanced anatomy/physiology courses, but tend not to adore reading passages like:

I know how dense iron is, and I know how to calculate the volume of a sphere. Getting to mass from there is just a little arithmetic.

I pull a pair of calipers out of the toolkit I keep in the tunnel and measure the sphere’s diameter. It’s 4.3 centimeters. From that, I work out the volume, multiply by the density of iron, and get a much more precise and accurate mass of 328.25 grams.

Protagonist, Project Hail Mary

Science nerds and data lovers rejoice! There’s a lot of this type of thing in Project Hail Mary if this type of thing is your forté. Weir is apparently a science nerd himself (I think you’d have to be one to write this book), and I tended to skim over these passages, assuming these solutions were correct and not genuinely caring if they weren’t (hey, it is fiction).

Fortunately, there a lot to love in Project Hail Mary as well if you’re like me. Someone, that is, who adores reading books involving speculative evolution rather than physics. If you love books like Children of Time, you might love this book as well. 1

Sadly, where my suspension of disbelief ended with this book wasn’t with its scientific aspects, but with its human ones. Part of the book involves a potential mass-extinction event. While I’d like to believe that a global crisis like the one in this book would prompt international cooperation, my inner cynic questions whether even averting a major global catastrophe would bring nations together. Additionally, I acknowledge that a single person making tough decisions can accomplish things much quicker than a committee. But I found myself questioning a particular character being given an extensive blanket power to make some far-reaching decisions . I found myself asking myself (yes, humans talk to themselves) “why this person?” and “would this really happen?”

However, Project Hail Mary will likely go on my end-of-year list for “must-read” books of 2021. Highly recommended!


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References and Footnotes
  1. My daugher force-read Children of Time upon me, but I found that I loved it. I may write a review on that sometime. Her brief review of that book was that she wanted fewer human parts and more spider parts. That book and Project Hail Mary are not really “alike” but my gut feeling is that people who like one might like the other.[]
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