Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Unlike most people, my first experience with Andy Weir was Artemis which I had mixed feelings about. I never did read The Martian. But somewhere along the line I heard the buzz about Project Hail Mary and I figured it would be a good book for when I am burned out on non-fiction and need something entertaining to read.

A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.

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?

Sounded intriguing so I requested it on Libby and waited for my turn. I recently was able to check it out and read it.

I didn’t hate it but I also didn’t love it. My initial reaction on Goodreads:

A creative and unique story about potential apocalypse and a dramatic attempt to save the world. I enjoyed it, but in the end too much science and math undercut the story for me. I enjoyed the way the story played out as Grace slowly began to recover his memories and there are some definite twists as that process unfolds. I even enjoyed his growing relationship with Rocky and how they learned to communicate and work together. And the ending was well done if a little cheesy.

But there was just way too much explanation of science and discussion of how to do the math involved. It felt like it was trying too hard to make math and science cool. Don’t get me wrong, math and science are important and I am glad there are people who are brilliant at these things. But it doesn’t necessarily make for engrossing reading. I am guessing those who enjoy and are good at math and science will enjoy this book a bit more than the rest of us…

If you want the flavor of the Hated It crowd, read this epic review from “Julie in Wonderland.” A taste:

This is not a book but a wish fulfilment of a childish sci-fi fantasy Andy Weir must have thought up during one boring physics class back in middle school and it’s utterly embarrassing. If I had written it, I would not have showed it to my cat, let alone a publisher. At the end, Andy Weir did not make me care about Mark Watney Pro Max nor about Earth and apocalypse or Rocky even. Everything’s just over the top and ridiculous. It’s like a parody. Not a real novel.

From the Loved It crowd, I offer Kirkus:

Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

In the same gushy vein, see Business Insider’s 3 reasons why “Project Hail Mary” is an absolute must-read .

For a more mixed review see Mary Robinette Kowal’s (president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) review at the Washington Post:

There are plenty of things to love about this book. Grace’s enthusiasm for science is infectious. Watching him get excited about an idea and chase it down is a delight. Rocky, when you meet him, is a beautifully constructed alien.

But the book could have been so much better. Its central tension — will Grace figure things out? — should have been based on a real problem, instead of a series of incidents that could have been solved with checklists and simple common sense. That said, you’ll probably enjoy it anyway, at least until you reach the refrigerator.

The New York Times also offers a mostly positive review:

For readers who can forgive its shortcomings, the result is an engaging space odyssey. While Mark Watney confronted a succession of escalating obstacles, Grace tends to resolve each setback almost immediately, and his relentless quips read like the output of an algorithm that was fed nothing but Joss Whedon scripts: “Astrophage would be the best thing ever if it weren’t, you know, destroying the sun.” Weir’s default voice allows for the painless delivery of facts, but it limits the emotions available to our hero, whose usual reaction to astounding events is to nerd out briefly at their awesomeness.

I am not a reader of much science fiction and as I noted at Goodreads am not a math or science person.  I also tend to not get hung up on implausibility as much in fiction as I might watching a movie oddly enough.  So plot holes and implausible scenarios didn’t bother me.

But the shallow characters and the constant saving the world through science and math eroded the story for me. If you don’t question it too much and just enjoy the ride it is an engaging story with twists and turns but if you are looking for more you might be disappointed.

Three thoughts:

  • If you want character depth and engagement, probably not your kind of book.
  • Don’t geek out about math and science? Might not enjoy it as much as others.
  • If you expect the plot to be realistic and fit together in a coherent whole, might be some issues.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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