Project Hail Mary, the latest from science fiction author Andy Weir, is a lot like Weir’s first novel, The Martian. It’s a rapid-fire romp through insurmountable problem after insurmountable problem, focusing on a protagonist who quips his way through each issue with snappy first-person narration and a never-ending supply of Science™.
Saying more about the book while avoiding spoilers is very difficult. As with The Martian, the book opens on a lone human in dire straits—our narrator awakens with total memory loss and has no idea who he is, where he is, or what he’s supposed to be doing. The process by which he pieces together his identity and mission takes up the first chunk of the book, and none of that stuff can really be discussed without spoiling things.
Spoiler-free thoughts: Should you buy it?
The quick version is that if you enjoyed The Martian’s style of storytelling, you’ll probably enjoy Project Hail Mary. The two books are cut from the same cloth—a scientist finds himself alone and has to science the you-know-what out of the situation. If that conceit works for you, the book will work for you. (And, as with The Martian, there’s already a movie deal in the works, with a screenplay by Drew Goddard.)
The stakes are considerably higher in PHM, though—this time around, all that sciencing isn’t just meant to save the life of a single astronaut. This time, the whole world—indeed, the whole Solar System, and maybe even our entire stellar neighborhood in the Orion arm—is in peril. There’s a plan, of course, but it’s a long shot.
Weir’s style and pacing are largely unchanged from The Martian, and the overall feel of the novel is very much like that first work versus Weir’s second novel, Artemis. The prose is accessible and unpretentious, and as with The Martian, the science is the starring character from the opening page. The supporting cast of characters are mostly single-use items assembled out of easily identifiable tropes; those characters exist primarily to push forward the problem-solving narrative.
It works because that narrative is the reason the audience is here. If you’re looking for a richly realized character study filled with complex human motivations, you might do better elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the story of someone logic-ing their way through overwhelming situations with physics and math and a stopwatch and some snappy one-liners, this is the story for you.
And, of course, there’s a huge structural difference this time around, versus The Martian’s poor marooned Mark Watney. This time, the story includes some problem-solving with a friend—and what a friend it turns out to be.
There’s a lot to talk about with this book—and so we’re going to wait a couple of weeks before running a more thorough (and very spoiler-y!) review. Check back later this month for our analysis piece, which should include some thoughts from a few different experts—including Andy himself, who was kind enough to spend an hour talking shop with me on Zoom. Stay tuned!
Project Hail Mary is on sale starting today.