I’ve been doing really well for reading so far this year. After setting a Goodreads target of 70 books, I’m at 37 already (text and audiobooks), and there’s been some really great ones there too. I’ve written short reviews of most of them on Goodreads, but I decided to write a full review of the latest audiobook I finished as it left such a big impression on me. That book is Project Hail Mary, a new release from Andy Weir, the author of The Martian (one of my all-time favourite books) and Artemis (which I liked more than most people seem to).
As the book begins, our hero, Dr Ryland Grace, wakes up from an three-year-long induced coma with no idea where he is or even who he is. Gradually, he pieces together that he is on board an interstellar spaceship, the Hail Mary; and with his two crewmates having died while comatose, he is the only one left to control the ship. Earth, it transpires, is in dire straits: an alien microbe known as “astrophage” has infected the Sun in sufficient numbers to drain its energy, threatening to plunge the Earth into an ice age and trigger a mass – perhaps even total – extinction. Ryland’s mission is to explore a nearby star system that is somehow immune to the effects of astrophage, and hopefully discover a solution to the biggest threat that his home planet has ever faced.
Readers of Weir’s previous novels will certainly notice trademarks present in Project Hail Mary. There’s plenty of snarky humour from Ryland, which makes him feel very similar to The Martian‘s Mark Watney to begin with. He is, however, ultimately different to Watney in many ways which become evident as the story progresses. One way is that he’s more of a pure scientist; I really liked how his passion for science comes through, and how he approaches many of the problems he faces by carrying out experiments. As in The Martian and Artemis, the “science” part of this science-fiction feels very believable; Weir takes the opportunity to explore real topics like relativity (a necessary consideration of an interstellar journey) while also getting creative with fictional concepts.
Without spoiling how the story progresses, there are so many good things about it. First, it’s very well-constructed: Ryland’s initial amnesia allows the reader to learn about the present situation as he does, and the background of Project Hail Mary is gradually revealed in flashbacks as more of his memories come back to him. These flashbacks reveal just what we need to know, and pop up in just the right places so as not to spoil the flow of the present events. Second, it’s really engaging: some parts got me especially tense, some parts shocked me, and there were even a few scenes where I got a little emotional, which not many books can do to me. The situation that Earth finds itself in certainly isn’t sugarcoated; the Sun’s diminishment is going to cause a lot of suffering no matter what happens with the Hail Mary, and some of the flashbacks involve very difficult and alarming decisions about what is necessary to give humanity any chance of survival.
Overall, Project Hail Mary is at least as good as The Martian, and a must-read for fans of science fiction and space travel. Rating: 5/5!