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Summary and Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir


Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, A sci-fi thriller about scientific research, evolution, interstellar exploration and a lone astronaut on a mission to save the world.

Synopsis

In Project Hail Mary, Ryland Grace wakes up on a spaceship with no memory, where he soon learns that he is the sole survivor on a desperate mission to save the earth.


With only the two dead bodies of his crewmates as company and his memories slowly retuning, he must piece together what has happened and complete his interstellar mission to have humanity.


(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)

Detailed Plot Summary

Quick Plot Summary

Note: This is only the first two paragraphs of the summary. The full summary will be posted after the book is released on May 4.


The book opens with Ryland Grace waking up next to two dead bodies. He doesn’t know where he is, what his name is or why he’s there. As Ryland investigates his surroundings and his memories slowly return through brief flashbacks, Ryland realizes he’s in a spaceship named Hail Mary, sent to investigate something called the Petrova problem. He has been in a medically induced coma.


Scientist Irina Petrova had first observed an astronomical anomaly that later turned out to be a microscopic extraterrestrial life form. These particles appear to feed on the sun, causing the sun’s output to exponentially decrease. This has potentially apocalyptic implications since it means the sun is effectively dying.


Ryland eventually recalls his research into these particles (which he named “Astrophages”)…

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Book Review

Project Hail Mary is the newest novel from Andy Weir, soon released in a few days on Star Wars Day (May 4). Sci-fi fans should feel free to get excited now. I was so thrilled to get an early copy of it and absolutely tore through this story about scientific research, evolution and interstellar exploration.

I loved, loved the movie The Martian and have been wanting to read something of Weir’s for a while now. However, I ended up skipping Weir’s follow-up novel, Artemis, since it had mixed reviews and the plot seemed kind of wonky to me, with stuff like space heists and gangsters and whatnot.

In Project Hail Mary, Weir gets his footing back on more comfortable territory: a dude in space doing science-y stuff.

Project Hail Mary involves quite a bit of scientific experimentation since the narrative involves a backstory about an astronomical anomaly. Weir does a fantastic job of explaining this all in a way that includes a full explanation of the science behind it while still making it very accessible and narratively interesting. This book is so impressive in that respect.

Chances are, if you read this book, you’re going to learn quite a few fun science facts! Here’s a good litmus test for whether or not you are a good reader for this book: If you read that sentence and thought, oh cool, science facts! You are a good reader for this book, and I bet you’ll love it. If you read the first sentence in this paragraph and thought, ugh, bleh, science. You are a bad reader for this book, and you will probably DNF it.

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot, but Project Hail Mary involves more speculative aspects of the story than The Martian did, so it involves similar territory but then extends outwards from there. There’s some portions of the book deals in evolution and the ways that species evolve. These were some of my favorite parts of the book, and I thought the coverage of it was compelling and astute.

It’s a very ambitious book in terms of what it’s trying to cover, and the science and technology aspect of it are so carefully and deliberately thought out. Weir’s use of actual science as a foundation for his science fiction is a particular strength of his, and it’s an understatement to say that it’s on full display in Project Hail Mary.

In terms of some general descriptors of the writing, the book progresses forward at a moderately rapid clip. The writing is what you’d expect from someone who’s more of a science guy than a writer in a literary sense, but it’s serviceable. It helps a lot that the narration and dialogue is often genuinely funny, which helps to smooth out most of the edges.

There’s one point towards the end where I thought the plot went a little off the rails and starts to get messy. I think Weir is better off sticking to science-survivalist stuff than trying to mess with plot points that involve human nature and whatnot. But I think it’s a small enough part of the book that it won’t ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the book if they feel similarly as I do. (See the Spoiler-ish Thoughts section below for more.)

Women in STEM

There’s (very) brief mention of the lack of women in STEM and the need to allow less qualified women in their selection criteria. (“Stratt stayed firm and insisted on only the best candidates, but some concessions had to be made. ‘Women,’ I said.”) Then, Weir has a character say that the way to change things is to “encourage your female students to get into STEM”.

Hm. Okay. Let’s be clear, that’s not enough. Yes, people should encourage women and girls to get into STEM. But say that’s the reason there aren’t more women in STEM is inaccurate.

Ultimately, having more women in STEM requires addressing the structural issues that keep women out, such as not having proper mentors and not having work or school environments that are free from sexism and harassment, etc.

Having creepy men who want you to flirt with them (or more) is not the same thing as mentorship. If there’s someone who is in a position of authority over a woman and “mentoring” them but also hoping they will maybe flirt and sleep with him, then that person is a predator and not a mentor. Beyond that, other women feeling as tyhey can’t be involved in projects if they’re not willing to flirt and whatnot is another type of harassment.

And the assumption that women in STEM are unqualified to be there is one of the many reasons why other women are reluctant to enter or stay in STEM fields. And the fact that if you are interested in STEM you have to randomly come across stuff like this is another reason why women exit STEM.

To be fair, this is just a mention made in passing, a few sentences out of the entire book, and I moved passed it. Still, I am disappointed by this nonetheless. I don’t understand why Weir felt the need to include a sexist character without having another character provide a counterargument.

As such, my general stance on stuff like this is to use it as a teaching opportunity on my blog (right here!), so thanks for reading!

Read it or Skip it?

This is a solid, sometimes quite funny and very meticulously thought-out book. In essence, it’s a great read … if you enjoy hard science.

You don’t need to understand barely any of the science in advance, Weir does an honestly impressive job at explaining things in relatively accessible terms. However, you need to at least be someone who would enjoy the prospect of learning some science stuff.

The stuff about women in STEM did irritate me, but let’s face it if you are a woman interested in science or technology, you deal with stuff like this all the time. It’s a part of the reason why women do not feel welcome in STEM.

Regardless, I will set that aside and say that overall, I thought Project Hail Mary was very good. If you like science at all, read it! If not, I’m sure it’ll become a super flashy movie at some point, so you can watch it then. Yay, space!

Is this something you’re planning on reading? Feel free to share your thought below! See Project Hail Mary on Amazon.

Spoiler-ish Thoughts

Spoilers Ahead, Beware! You’ve Been Warned

I thought the part where it turns out that Eva drugged Ryland and forced him on this trip didn’t make a ton of sense. It also doesn’t make sense. Eva’s someone who likes to use “off the shelf” products because she don’t want to rely on untested, uncertain things. It’s one thing for her to force someone to work for her on the ground where she can keep an eye on them, it’s a whole other thing to force this person on a suicide mission into space.

Eva’s also convinced that the crew being confined to a small space for four years will cause severe depression enough to ruin the mission; she’s concerned enough that she devises a whole extended coma plan.

… But then, she decides to sends a amnesiac, drugged using something with unpredictable results, who will either be in a state of having forgotten half of what he knows or being angry, unwilling, bitter and possibly ruining the morale of the other crew when he does remember?

And then she says some stuff about him always having been the tertiary science person, which is why she kept him around? Huh? If she wanted a tertiary crew, she would’ve just…trained a tertiary crew. She has all the resources in the word and her backup plan is an angry, unwilling amnesiac? If she’s known all along he was a backup plan, she would’ve just told him. That way, she could’ve found out his thoughts about it at the onset. What’s the benefit of not telling him?

It seems like a weird plot twist to me. I guess it makes the point that Ryland very much does not want to die (which is important since otherwise his choice at the end becomes a very simple one), but it seems like there were better ways to do this. It just seems like the science in this book is so thoroughly reasoned out that this part being so … not like that … sticks out.

Discussion Questions

  1. Was Project Hail Mary what you expected going into it? What surprised you about it?
  2. What did you think about the character of Ryland Grace? Were you rooting for him? What did you like or dislike about him?
  3. What did you think about the science behind Project Hail Mary? Were you able to understand it, and did you enjoy reading about it? How do you think it contributed to your enjoyment of the story?
  4. What did you think about the process of planning the Hail Mary mission? Did you think
  5. What did you think about the character of Eva? Did you find her sympathetic as a character? What did you like or dislike about her?
  6. At one point, Eva calls Ryland a coward. Do you think her assessment of him was accurate or fair?
  7. What did you think about the different social customs of the Eridians? Did these make sense to you?
  8. If you had to choose someone to be stuck in space with, would you choose Ryland or Rocky?
  9. What did you think of Weir’s descriptions of the Eridians? Did these seem convincing to you as a species that could possibly be real?
  10. Weir goes into detail regarding the comparisons between Eridians and humans. They are located close to each other, at least relative to the vastness of space, and their planets are similar but with some distinct differences. What do you think of Weir’s reasoning of why the Eridians and humans are similar or different and the ways that they’ve evolved (Rocky and Ryland are similar intellectually, but Rocky’s bodily composition is very different, etc.)?
  11. Were you left with any unanswered questions after reading Project Hail Mary? If so, what?

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