Review – Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Ryland Grace wakes up on a spaceship with no memory, next to two dead people. He is on a mission to save the human race, if only he can remember what that mission is.
Project Hail Mary is a return to Andy Weir’s roots, of a sort. The book is about a man mostly alone who trying to survive. However, the stakes differ from The Martian, where Mark Watney’s life is the only life at stake. In this book, the entire Earth depends on Ryland’s mission.
On the whole, the book is a decent sci-fi adventure. There’s plenty of action, the plot arc is sound enough, and it has some cool ideas to explore. If a random author wrote this book, it would be regarded as a good addition to the sci-fi genre. But Andy Weir isn’t going to escape comparisons with the Martian.
In her 2009 TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert talked about how everything she writes after Eat, Pray, Love will always be compared to it and that she may never again write anything so successful. In part, she was talking about how people perceive her career. She said that it was possible that her best work may be behind her and that she had to come to grips with that. I worry about the conflation of ‘successful’ and ‘best work’ in this scenario, but I’m veering off-topic.
Unlike Artemis, Andy Weir’s second book which had a teenage female protagonist and cast of characters, Project Hail Mary focuses on just a main character and one other, with a few flashbacks as Ryland recovers his memory. It is super hard not to draw comparisons with the Martian, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Project Hail Mary will not be as successful as The Martian. It will do well (it’s been out since May the 4th 2021, so it likely has done well), but I don’t think it will see the popularity of the Martian.
Project Hail Mary is a book that sci-fi readers will enjoy, but it won’t have the wide appeal that The Martian had. This is because the theme of the two books widely different. The Martian’s theme weaves stoicism in the face of adversity with the value of a single human life, and that even when we are alone, a man is not an island. Project Hail Mary’s theme is more about coming to terms with a life that never hit its potential and finding value and meaning in life.
Where one theme is universal or at least has much wider appeal, the other will speak to only a portion of the population. Not to say that it isn’t a large group of people, just not as large. Now, it’s true that you don’t have to identify with a book’s theme to enjoy it. But I would say the number of superfans who will rave about a book and tell all their friends about it are people who resonate with the book’s theme. And it is the number of superfans that drives the success of a novel.
The book is well put together, the ideas are interesting, and it is an enjoyable read. The story does lend itself to comparisons to the Martian on face value but do your best to be objective and try to keep the two books separate in your mind.
Project Hail Mary is a solid science fiction novel, well worth a read.