Book : Project Hail Mary (and also The Martian) by Andy Weir

, in Books, Science Fiction

Project Hail Mary Cover Art
Project Hail Mary
By Andy Weir
Published 2021 Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780593135211

Dr. Ryland Grace wakes, apparently from a long coma, in a high tech white room with only some robot arms and a couple of dead bodies for company. He also has no memory of the events leading up to this situation or indeed the last 5 years of his life. Where is he and what is going on?

Andy Weir jumped into fame (and I assume fortune) with his debut novel The Martian, about a lone individual trapped alone with only their wits and scientific knowledge to keep themselves alive. Project Hail Mary is much the same but right from the start it hits the reader with a succession of plot twists and revelations that I will not talk about here.

I never got around to writing anything about The Martian so I'll talk about that instead. Everything about the former book applies to this one anyway, in many ways they are almost the same novel. Both feature a single protagonist in an impossible situation sciencing the shit of their problems one by one. Their names are different but Watney and Grace are both incredibly resourceful, clever, amusingly self-deprecating, and likable. I suspect in the first drafts both characters were named Andy.

The Martian contains lengthy sections of Mark Watney Robinson Crusoeing on Mars interspersed with scenes back on Earth where people are trying to figure out how to help. PHM is similar, although here the interstational scenes are flashbacks as Grace slowly begins to regain his memories in chronological order while he sleeps. The conceit allows for two parallel plots to unfold during the novel and provides for some truly great reveals.

The writing in both novels is almost completely plot driven - there is juuust enough characterization and scene description to tie everything together. Some of the supporting characters are laughably thin, even stereotypes, but it really doesn't matter in a story like this. Both novels are really about problem solving and thinking like a scientist and/or engineer. I really enjoyed this approachI've heard plots like this described as Competence Porn which seems appropriate. There is just something so ... satisfying ... about watching a clever plan well executed. but reading some passages sometimes feels like watching someone else play an adventure game.

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Another thing that sort of annoyed me about both books is Weir's insistence in having characters spout trivia for no reason. Thankfully it doesn't happen often but it makes the already uninspired dialog seem insufferable. And I like trivia.

Project Hail Mary is basically The Martian v2.0, it has a more fantastical plot with bigger scifi ideas than its predecessor which traded heavily on being just barely plausible. I enjoyed both immensely but I think PHM might just be the better novel if only for the twists and turns. But if you didn't enjoy The Martian you will find nothing here to change your mind.