Andy Weir’s PROJECT HAIL MARY is a joy to read. Good. Good.
To begin, the title is not a direct religious reference. It has a football origin, meaning going for a long-shot gamble when there’s no other realistic choice. Instead of saying “He’s praying for a miracle,” we say “the quarterback threw a Hail Mary.” In the novel. Project Hail Mary involves sending our hero, Ryland Grace (a microbiologist and science teacher), and two other astronauts in a spaceship on a one-way trip to another solar system to find a way to save humans and other Earth lifeforms from extermination by a threat called Astrophage. Touchdown? Question. (That’s a clever novel reference. Good. Good.)
Andy Weir’s two major books, “The Martian” and “Project Hail Mary,” are based on a similar premise: a man highly specialized must survive alone in an extraterrestrial environment. In “The Martian,” it was a man left alone on Mars when his crewmates thinking he was dead (wrong) left the planet without him. In Project Hail Mary, a man is alone on a spaceship after he wakes from an induced coma to learn his fellow astronauts died enroute to their destination.
For reasons too complicated for me to understand, I think of Project Hail Mary as a warped Robinson Crusoe story—alone on a spaceship instead of an island. He even has his own version of Friday, an alien life form we call Rocky. Rocky is an engineer par excellence. He’s also on a mission to find a way to save his people from the effects of the Astrophage. Understand? Question.
There’s a lot of science and engineering concepts in the novel. I truly understood virtually none of it, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. I did understand one concept: If you drop a bolt while working outside the spaceship, you’ll never see that bolt again.
I also learned stuff. Like, for example, the average human body has 37.2 TRILLION cells (Who counted them? That must be what lab assistants are for.). Each cell of those 37.2 trillion cells is a complex organism with many parts. A key component is the mitrochondria that creates and stores energy. Eat your potassium, kids. (DNA is in there too, but this is a science fiction novel, not a police procedural novel, so DNA knowledge is not necessary.) Good. Good.
I also learned about neutrinos. I’m sure this is all common knowledge to you, but it made me wish I was a microbiologist (except they seem to die prematurely under suspicious circumstances).
There’s more than Earth science. Rocky (the extraterrestrial) is not human and his biology is totally foreign, and his planet, Erid, is nothing like Earth (except both are more or less round). Though Ryland Grace and Rocky are nothing alike biologically and culturally, they must learn to communicate and work together to save their respective planets’ citizens. If all the novel had going for it was the details of Rocky and his planet that Weir created, the novel would still rate 5 stars.
There’s a lot of humor in the book. I can’t decide if the novel is a suspense book with a lot of humor thrown in, or a humor book with science fiction suspense making frequent appearances.
I wrote more, but I’ll stop here.
In sum, Project Hail Mary is great fun and you don’t need to know technical stuff to follow and enjoy it.
My rating: 5 stars easy.