Project Hail Mary: a book review

Well I have thoroughly enjoyed returning to reading fiction this week with the latest offering from my non-resolution Christmas book pile, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. The last of my fiction choices from the Christmas pile, I have only three (!!) more books to get through on the Christmas list before I can get started on the rather large pile of books I have definitely not bought since…

For my next book choice, it is probably the most unusual choice in the pile, Sherlock Holmes Escape Room Puzzles. I love to have a puzzle or two to keep the grey cells ticking over (I can even enjoy spending an hour watching other people completing sudoku puzzles) so I am sure this book will be good fun. I do have a caveat however, if I get stuck with the puzzles, I might decide to skip sections or abandon the book entirely. As much as I enjoy solving puzzles, I don’t want to spend weeks and weeks on my next book choice.

First things first, let us delve once more into a fictional world (and while I have tried to avoid them, fair warning there could be SPOILERS ahead)!

Project Hail Mary

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I was vaguely aware of Andy Weir before being bought this book for Christmas. Like a lot of people, I had seen the movie The Martian and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had not however gotten round to reading the book, so Project Hail Mary was my first foray into Weir’s work.

Told in the first person, Project Hail Mary tells the story of an amnesiac astronaut seemingly lost in space and with no idea how he found himself there. Through a combination of good luck and well timed flashbacks, the astronaut begins to recall some of the details of his past life and mission, before the challenges ahead of him become painfully clear.

As with Weir’s previous work (so I am led to believe), Project Hail Mary attempts to stay true to the reality of the physical Universe we live in and science as we currently understand it. There are no warp drives or lightsabers for fans of more speculative science fiction, but the inclusion of realistic physics (pitched seemingly at just about my level of understanding to boot) gave the story a very realistic feel, despite some of the more fantastical elements of the plot. And while there is a liberal sprinkling of deus ex machina throughout the book, I did not feel the plot suffered unduly as a result. This is a science fictional world after all, a little bit of belief needs suspending to enjoy the ride.

At this point, you are probably wondering why I have give the book only three stars. Unfortunately, there are two downsides (and one is a doozy) which I think are sufficient to knock a star or two off, and I will discuss them a little more below.

What I really liked

  1. The realistic science is definitely the strongest point in this book. Nothing happens fast over the distances covered in space, and while the narrative jumps forwards to avoid the tedium of describing day after day of drudgery between moments of excitement, Weir goes to great lengths to make sure he mentions the time gaps involved.
  2. I really enjoyed the plot of this book. It did not go anywhere remotely near where I expected it to, granted having only read the blurb and seen The Martian, but it felt all the better for this. I don’t think there is anyway to guess the ending even half way through the book, and I liked the mystery as the plot wound it’s way to a conclusion,

The less good bits

  1. The biggest issue I had with Project Hail Mary is the lazy national and racial stereotypes. Russians are always drunk or drinking, the Southern US black man calls everyone by their title (even the woman he is sleeping with), the Chinese astronaut is overly formal and polite, and of course the American protagonist/hero is the only person with any real character and depth. All the book was missing was an Arab terrorist and a posh Englishman in a bowler hat to complete the set. Project Hail Mary was published in 2021, and I would have hoped we had moved past major works getting published with such tired tropes, but apparently not.
  2. Less of an issue but still irritating, the amnesiac narrator relearning their past at the same time as the reader. This might be more of a personal bugbear, but I prefer my narrator to be omniscient, even if they keep information from my until the relevant point of the plot.

Summary

Project Hail Mary is an very good, close to realistic sci-fi novel which I definitely enjoyed reading, but the inclusion of tired stereotypes and the irritating narrator stopped me loving it.

Who should read this book? Fans of The Martian, or other more realistic sci-fi works like The Expanse will almost certainly enjoy this book. People looking for a more culturally diverse read should probably give this one a miss.

Have you read Project Hail Mary or got it on the TBR pile? What did you think of the book? Did you find the stereotypes as disappointing as I did? Will you read more of Weir’s works? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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