Litstack Recs | Desperate Characters & Project Hail Mary
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
Did you love The Martian (either the book or the movie)? Are you tired of the same old formulaic science fiction dramas? Have you had enough of the slam-bam-thankyoum’am shoot’em up action stories, or the ones with convenient magics or the ones so full of twisty convoluted intrigue that not only are you not sure who to root for, but you’re not even sure you care? Did you wish your fantasy reads were more real?
If you said yes to any of those questions, you’ve got to read Project Hail Mary, the newest novel from Andy Weir.
Yes, it has a lot of science, most of which you probably won’t understand (and that’s okay). Yes, the stakes are very high, this time on even more than a personal survival scale (but there’s a fair share of that, as well). Yes, it has a limited cast of characters and environments (oh, but what characters, and what environments!).
But what Project Hail Mary doesn’t have are the same old/same old conflicts involving greedy corporations, corrupt governments, drug cartels, murderous gangs, power hungry despots, or any of the regular lineups of bad guys vs good guys. Instead, it is chock full of human drama, relayed in a simple, honest, and gripping manner. Quite frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Ryland Grace is a junior high science teacher who wakes up from an apparent coma only to find himself aboard a spacecraft in search of a way to save the Earth from the devastating effects of a sun that is having its energy siphoned off by… something. His situation is already dire – and he’s not even sure exactly what the situation is.
It takes a while for Grace to realize what he’s gotten himself into, for when he wakes up at the start of the book he’s suffering from an almost complete amnesia which only retreats in fits and starts – which is a wonderful way for the reader to “learn” along with him. He retains a wealth of knowledge, but none of it is personal. It turns out that he’s not a science superstar – he dropped out of the scientific community after publishing a paper about the how water should not be considered requisite for life, and being rather soundly ridiculed for it. He has no close family, no close relationships, but he enjoys teaching, enjoys knowing a lot of random bits of information that only a junior high science teacher would know, and enjoys being thought of as one of the “cool” teachers. And it’s this down to earth, relatable, compelling in a non-pretentious way character who carries the weight of saving the world.
Grace is the main character – and he’s a great one – but there are a couple of other wonderful characters, too. (There are many great characters, but really only three main ones, as one might expect of a story where much of the action takes place on a small spaceship.) Even though you don’t see the story through their eyes, they are amazingly developed.
I was really drawn to Eva Stratt, a former administrator from the ESA (European Space Agency- she’s Dutch) who is now in charge of the Hail Mary project. She has literally unlimited power, transcending governments and agencies, and she has an extremely organized mind, nerves of steel, an uncompromising focus on the mission – and a heart of stone. But she’s exactly what the world needs, and whether or not she wanted to be in that position doesn’t matter. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to save humanity, period. It’s very refreshing to find a character who is so intransigent and unsentimental yet still focused on the common good, sans any kind of personal or political agenda.
The third main character, Rocky, is also amazing. I mean, amazing. But I’m not going to tell you about him. You’ll have to find out for yourself.
Project Hail Mary is the perfect book to read right now, when it feels like the world is split into so many factions that hate each other or are unconcerned about anything but their own ascendence, where umbrage is waved like a flag and intolerance is considered a self-righteous virtue. It is a scientifically complex book that has at its core a simple, overarching message: do the right thing. Even if it’s terrifying. Even if it seems hopeless. Even if you’re scared shitless. And by trying to do the right thing, you might not end up saving the world – you might end up saving more than you could ever imagine. Even if you are “just” a junior high science teacher.