Science never held much excitement throughout those high school years, and yet perhaps the issue was not the subject itself, but the teacher. Andy Weir has once again proven that science can be the central driving force of some of the finest page turners around at the moment. His foray into the novel genre began with the immensely popular The Martian about a man stranded on Mars and his fight for survival against inordinate odds.
His Sophomore offering Artemis was about life through the lens of a young, spirited woman in a new human colony positioned on the Moon who manages to save mankind and struggles through inordinate odds. So when this premise came out that Project Hail Mary was to be about an astronaut finding themselves saving humanity through a series of remarkable MacGuyver-esque science against, you guessed it, inordinate odds - well, there was little surprise.
Like the other two novels, there is a pseudo stream of consciousness presented in the first person narrative. It gives us as the reader an insight into the thought processes and rationale of the protagonist, Ryland Grace. Grace is funny through his sarcastic commentary of events, but also more nuanced than Mark Watney in The Martian. There is more of depth to the character as one recognises the growing maturity of Weir as a writer.
But the novel is hugely plausible. The premise and the science checks out. Which, considering the subject matter, is a feat worthy of hearty congratulations. In fact, astronauts have unanimously lauded the science in all three of Weir’s novels with one British Astronaut, Tim Peake, suggesting it is the most realistic that he had ever read. Certainly some of the explanations are challenging, but presented in a way that is scaffolded so you build up to the revelation, this is supported by the protagonist having to build up his own memory after being under the influence of a medical compound designed to help him forget events leading up to this point due to the sheer length he is unconscious while travelling through space. It’s a bit like waking up from a general anaesthetic with the addition of a gradually returning memory. The revelations that come from this memory reconstituting itself punctuates the general narrative and provides context for the situation Grace finds himself.
Despite not being a huge fan of science fiction novels, this really draws you in through the fast pace of action and that deep sense of support that makes you root for the hero - American jingoism aside. There is nothing quite like a good old fashioned world-saving mission and this delivers on this front.
For sure, there are some elements that will likely rile a few feathers among readers - mainly in relation to the help Grace receives from an unlikely ally on the spaceship - but that does not detract from the overarching storyline and adds to the intrigue.
Overall, while not one to recommend based on another book, this is certainly one that if you enjoyed The Martian, then you will enjoy Project Hail Mary. A highly recommended read!
In addition, the novel has supporting information that Ryan Gosling and MGM have purchased the film rights - so expect another blockbuster in the near future.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Penguin Random House, RRP $37.00