‘Project Hail Mary’ Review: Andy Weir’s 2021 Sci-Fi Novel

Author Andy Weir knows how to walk the line between keeping his readers engaged and disinterested, with fascinating characters and plots, but heaps of science jargon that is mind-numbing to the common reader. Even so, he found great success with a film adaptation of The Martian, which received equal acclaim with Matt Damon as the protagonist, Dr. Mark Watney. Now he has another novel being adapted with Ryan Gosling poised to play junior high teacher turned astronaut, Dr. Ryland Grace in Project Hail Mary. There is much to love within the story, with triumphs, ingenuity, and showcasing the spectrum of human emotions.

Project Hail Mary has a gripping rhythm at its core

Project Hail Mary has a narrative structure that I truly enjoyed as it peeled back the layers of its protagonist to both the reader and the character. Initially, the premise is confusing for both, as Grace wakes from a coma, and he doesn’t even know his name. It turns out he’s on a spaceship, has a mission to save the entire planet of Earth, and is all alone. Yet it’s more about how he begins to remember it all; small things start to trigger his memories, and then he re-experiences them and gets more reflection on the mission. Again, it’s a great manner to unveil the bits and pieces of everything that led up to the launch of the Hail Mary ship.

The book tends to lose some of its built-up pressure of the story within the long-winded descriptions of terms that require a firm understanding of various sciences. Full portions of pages are just terms and numbers that are hard to focus on as they are calculations performed in Grace’s head. Another terrifying constant is that Grace performs much of this math as “back of a napkin” arithmetic. While this may be fine in a novel, it’s seemingly senseless to do this repeatedly on an official mission. There are various other liberties taken regarding the decisions of the crew, ones that I won’t detail, but for a recently released novel (2021), are real head-scratchers.

Grace, as a protagonist, is endearing; you find out he was a school teacher who was selected due to a research paper that rejected the notion of all life needing water to survive. The conflict in Project Hail Mary is that this unknown alien microbe (“Astrophage” – Greek for Star Eater) is absorbing energy from the Sun, which eventually will result in a dramatic shift in global temperatures – i.e., a new Ice Age. Grace is the first person to study Astrophage and uncover many key attributes of this world-ending microbe. Soon enough, he’s pulled off the assignment, but Grace barges back in, demanding to continue his work on the microbe. Enter Eva Stratt, who is given unbound global power and funding for the titular Project Hail Mary, the last solution to saving humanity.

Humanity is at the forefront, for better or worse

Stratt is, for lack of a better term, a necessary evil. She can move mountains with a look and is literally exempt from being pinned for a crime. She possesses pardons in advance from the President in case anyone tries. This accelerated pardon allows Stratt to assemble the best of the best in every regard of the mission. It was actually cool seeing the implied possibilities of a united Earth, putting aside regional and cultural differences to work together and get things accomplished. Still, Stratt has to make some of the most difficult choices ever presented for humankind in order to save it. It’s a fascinating exploration of morality, seeing someone prepared to equally take the brunt of the blame, knowing how necessary each decision means in the end.

The first slap comes when Grace encounters an alien spaceship that is navigating parallel to the Hail Mary and matching his velocity. After some nifty methods of communication, Grace is the first human to make contact with an alien he dubs “Rocky” because of Rocky’s….rock-like exterior. It’s a charming sequence of events to see how Rocky and Grace work out how to understand one another over time. In space, Grace goes through the ringer various times, and it’s enough to make you hold your breath. Luckily, Rocky is an engineer and a damn good one who’s instrumental to their survival and research breakthroughs.

The good heavily outweighs the small amount of bad in Project Hail Mary 

Weir’s strengths lie in the ascension of hope, knocking it down a few pegs and then building it back up slowly but surely. There’s a strong enjoyment in the memories returning to Grace over time, and this narrative keeps you intrigued throughout these sections. On the other hand, Weir’s fondness for geeking out on the particulars of science and numbers simply kills the momentum on so many occasions. The best effort in making these ramblings enjoyable was the conversations between Rocky and Grace that made them just a touch more tolerable.

More flashbacks uncover exactly how Grace ended up on the Hail Mary ship, and the truth is rather grim from all sides. Grace is the only one alive on the ship, which also compounds the awfulness and significance of succeeding, as Earth has no backup plan outside of the “beetle” mini-ships. In a pinch, the beetles can automatically return to Earth with whatever information Grace can accommodate onto a provided hard drive to inform scientists how to combat the crisis. It’s a genius secondary plan and a brilliant Chekhov’s gun that helps provide a vastly satisfying resolution.

Overall, the novel is quite rewarding if you’re able to stand the repetition of how the Hail Mary changes in orientation to change the forces in gravity. The conclusion becomes less unexpected towards the last couple of chapters and yet it still manages to deliver an uplifting compromise for all parties involved.

What’s next for Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary?

Project Hail Mary is the latest work from Andy Weir but not the only one with a movie adaptation in the works, Artemis has been in limbo with no updates since 2018. Cameras just began rolling on Project Hail Mary with the famed director duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of the highly acclaimed films The Lego MovieSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) set for a 2026 release date.

Project Hail Mary is available to purchase at your book retailer of choice.


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