Our protagonist wakes up from a coma in a spaceship where the other two people aboard are now corpses, and doesn’t know who he is or why he’s there. It’s a good start for a novel where the twists keep on coming, and I’m not going to spoil it here because there are two really good twists in the plot (and one twist that doesn’t really detract from the others.) Project Hail Mary is the best of the three books by Andy Weir that I’ve read, and as much as I liked The Martian and almost couldn’t put it down, Hail Mary surpasses it in every way.
The hallmarks of an Andy Weir book are all there – a protagonist who has to rely on their wits, scientific knowledge, and not a whole lot of help from the rest of the world. A problem that can only be solved by working the puzzle pieces intensely through a scientific process. Obstacles that more or less amount to “Yeah, I’ve done some dumb things after staying awake for thirty hours on an important project too; and, oh yes, I would not bother to double-check that I was in Earth-standard gravity after waking up from a coma with no memory of even my own name.”
I love this feature of Weir’s writing: his protagonists have very human failings. They don’t need to be opposed by a Kang the Conqueror or a Blofeld; people are really good at getting in their own way, and you don’t need evil to explain the failure of a complex project in space with very few people able to collaborate on it. Disaster is waiting in every screw not fully drilled in, on the strength of the tether in every spacewalk. I hope Weir’s future work explores this theme more; too much fiction revolves around hyper-capable phantom enemies, and not enough around our simple inability to accept that we need a Plan B worked out beforehand; we need to both firmly hold that hot tea kettle and make sure it’s not going to drop on something valuable. After ten thousand times of making tea; it’s going to drop once. There’s a rich field there because almost no one writes about this, and Weir is making it a centerpiece of his novels. It also helps build, rather than dissipate, the tension in his work. In a Bond story, you know you’re going to have a scene with the villain before everything goes very wrong. In a Weir story, that dang protagonist is on stage the whole time and you just don’t know when he’s going to mess up!
There’s a paucity of characters in most of Weir’s books, which is often a strength, but there is one character who keeps showing up in The Martian, Artemis, and Project Hail Mary: space travel. Weir has lovingly detailed the details of getting to and living on Mars, of surviving on Earth’s moon, and Hail Mary has its own ambitious, highly detailed space journey (which I’m not going to reveal, because you should definitely read this book!) A lot of work has gone into this one, it’s obvious to the reader that space travel gets half the attention of the narrative lavished on it and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The only thing I will give away is that Hail Mary has me wondering what I would bring if I had to bring my microbiology lab into space.
Double thumbs up for both thought-provoking work and writing you just can’t put down because you want to know what happens – read this book!