Have you ever read a book you couldn’t put down? Project Hail Mary is, bluntly, absorbing. Andy Weir tells a story about sacrifice and discovery through the eyes of a spacefaring protagonist. The catch? You only know as much as the protagonist’s severe amnesia allows.
The endgame is simple: save humanity from cellular alien life in outer space that’s feeding on the Sun’s energy output, Astrophage. The more they consume, the larger their population. And the larger their population, the colder Earth gets. As Grace solves this science-fiction mystery, regular flashbacks help him regain his memory.
This straightforward plot is interrupted by two jarring twists: the realisation that he isn’t in the Solar System and the arrival of another species capable of interstellar travel.
Weir focuses on how different alien life can be. The Eridians are rocky, metallic, five-legged spiders with a photographic memory. They see with sound, and live in a highly pressurised, ammonia-rich environment. They inhabit a Super-Earth with a brick wall of a magnetic field. The Eridians are explorers and engineers, but not scientists – they only learn about relativity and interstellar radiation from Grace.
Project Hail Mary is emotionally captivating. You feel the loneliness of orbiting a distant sun all alone. You feel the shock of finding an alien spaceship, the relief of companionship, and the nostalgia following a goodbye.
Some of the book delves deeper into fiction than science. Take the amount of power Stratt has, or the artificial labels put on the people Grace knows. Stratt? Authoritative. Chinese astronaut? Strict. Russian cosmonaut? Energetic Vodka-lover. To save humanity, Earth’s band of heroes commit outlandish acts: paving the Sahara with solar panels, or detonating nuclear bombs in Antarctica.
But, Project Hail Mary is bold. It navigates past the deluges of technical information in Weir’s previous novels. Weir’s latest work is persistent in being captivating, and dazzling in its presentation of ideas that challenge the science-fiction status-quo.