Book Review: All Praise Hard Science in Andy Weir’s Hail Mary Project, Arts News & Top Stories
Hail Mary project
By Andy Weir
Random House / Paperback / 475 pages / $ 29.43 / Available here
3 out of 5
A man wakes up in a round, white room. Robot arms hang from the ceiling. He is flanked by two desiccated corpses. He cannot remember his name, let alone where he is or why he is there.
In another genre of novel, the hero can inspect bodies or craft a makeshift crowbar to explore his surroundings and find out where he is.
But this is an Andy Weir novel, and that means that its protagonist must find the answers logically by the scientific method – in this case, starting with the calculation of gravity using test tubes, pendulums. and a stopwatch.
As the reader quickly learns, the man’s name is Ryland Grace. He’s a scientist. He is aboard a spaceship heading for a distant star. He is the sole survivor of a last ditch effort to save humanity from an interstellar microbe that threatens to plunge Earth into another Ice Age.
Project Hail Mary is the third novel by American author Weir, 10 years after his debut The Martian (available here), which was made into a blockbuster movie in 2015.
His prose is more refined, but the formula remains broadly the same, until the protagonist wise and gifted at solving problems. After all, if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed.
Those who feel frustrated with “soft” science fiction novels, in which the technicalities are often overshadowed by futuristic jargon, will find this book a satisfying read.
Weir clearly did his homework. It’s impressive how each problem its protagonist faces – spanning areas such as physics, chemistry, and biology – is accompanied by a step-by-step description of their thought processes from first principles, with answers. correct to two decimal places.
The short, punchy sentences keep these sections from being overwhelming. And for those who are just not interested in scouring the science, Grace’s conclusions are always neatly summarized at the end of each passage.
One weak point is the character development, even the main characters sometimes feel like cardboard cutouts delivering clichés.
Even so, this action-packed, fast-paced book remains a fascinating read.
- If you liked this read: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, 2016, $ 33.32, available here), on humanity’s struggle to save themselves from extinction after the destruction of the Moon made Earth uninhabitable.