Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

A Sci-Fi and space adventure tale by bestselling author Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary is an out-of-this-world good read, literally. Weir mixes his love of writing and real-world science to give his audience a mostly scientifically accurate story with refreshingly human (and alien) characters.

In the near future, Ryland Grace wakes up on a small spaceship, crewmates dead, no memory, and that star out of the window is not Earth’s sun. Ryland has been hurtling through space in a vegetative state and is now in the Tau Ceti solar system, 12 light-years from home. Meanwhile, a brilliant team of experts, led by Eva Stratt has been patiently waiting on Earth. 

An extraterrestrial organism, called Astrophage, is consuming the sun’s energy. If left unchecked, Earth will cool down to an uninhabitable nightmare and all life will perish. The race is on to find out why Tau Ceti’s planets can survive the Astrophage infestation without the death of its sun. If the answer is found, maybe there is a solution to save the world too.

We get to know narrator Ryland through a series of scenes from the ship Hail Mary and from conveniently timed flashbacks that give him just enough memory to solve the problem at hand. And on a spaceship, there are plenty of problems to be had: explosions, a rapidly depleting fuel source, and contamination to name a few. Ryland used to be a middle school science teacher, but his special set of skills qualified him to work on the team trying to quickly solve the Astrophage problem.

But Ryland isn’t the only one searching for a way to save his homeworld. We meet the affectionately named Rocky, a sentient and mobile rock-like being from another solar system. Human and alien must work together, share resources, and trust each other with their lives in order to have a chance at saving at least one planet. Themes of friendship and communication organically permeate the novel. Linguists will cherish the unique language-building and communication challenges presented between Ryland and Rocky. The world-building and cultural creation of the alien race of Eridians was complex and unique. 

Internal struggles weigh heavily on Ryland as he often sways between self-preservation and saving the greater good. Emotional conflict brings a level of suspense parallel to the dangerous spacewalks and perilous explosions.

The fate of the world appears to be left in the hands of a middle school science teacher. Will he be able to save the world in time? Will he live long enough to know if his plan worked?

This do-or-die suspense kept me hooked until the end. 

After seeing the movie adaptation of Weir’s The Martian, I couldn’t help but mentally cast Matt Damon as Ryland. Imagine a spacesuit-clad Damon floating around a cramped spaceship while talking to a rock. If you liked Mark Watney, you’ll like Ryland Grace, as the two are different sides of the same coin. He is intelligent, yet reckless; empathetic and likable.

A follow-up, but stand-alone novel to The Martian (2011) and Artemis (2017), Weir gives us more of what makes him a great author: science, suspense, witty dialogue, and puzzles to solve. This is the space odyssey you’ve been waiting for. What could be better than rock aliens, sun-eating aliens, and the fate of humanity hanging in the balance?

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