Project Hail Mary

Having read a glowing review of Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, and having liked the film The Martian, which is based on another Weir novel, I was curious and looked at the preview on Amazon last Friday. That preview was enough to seduce me to download the Kindle version and spend the rest of the day and a good bit of the night in gobbling up the book. What was so thrilling? Well, for one thing, the main character, one Ryland Grace, is stranded in space with no memory of how he got there. We get the story how he copes with his current situation interspersed with his returning memories, as flash backs.

HailM

The gradual revelation of the background kept me glued to my Kindle screen, but the unfolding events in Ryland’s present did the same – there are no slow parts to the novel, everything is fast-paced and plot-driven. I’m sure that this novel, like The Martian, would make an excellent sci-fi film. I don’t want to go into details, as that would spoil the novel if you haven’t read it yet. But now that I’ve read it, I’m also sure that I will revisit it whenever I feel like a reading a very engaging novel, anticipating my favourite moments in the story.

Although the novel is plot-driven and there isn’t really much character development, there are some very emotional scenes, which brought tears into my eyes, so it’s not only mechanical plot progression without feelings. At first, Ryland seem a little emotionally cold, but that’s due to his amnesiac state.

I really enjoyed the novel, despite the use of some plot devices I normally don’t care for but which, surprisingly in this case, didn’t reduce my enjoyment. I’m going to put those quibbles under the cut, because they are a bit spoilery. Don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoilered.

For one thing, the main character Ryland is an absolute genius who managed to deal with each problem thrown at him, even at the beginning when he was still suffering from amnesia (and if he couldn’t deal, the other being did – yep, there’s contact with aliens). There were a million instances where things could have gone south but didn’t. I guess that’s expected: who wants to read a space adventure that ends with the extinction of life on earth?

Another thing is that the novel contains tons of science, which Ryland tells or shows us, by describing or performing experiments. But then the science is super interesting (also due to the high stakes), so that isn’t a problem either in this case (in other sci-fi novels the science babble can sometime get to be a bit overpowering). Some (a lot) of the science is above my head but it did seem pretty plausible and supported the plot really well. One thing I loved was that the phenomenon that caused the whole situation was also a potential boon for humankind (if it could be contained and harnessed).

Then there’s the language situation: Ryland meets an alien that speaks (sings?) a kind of musical language. He uses a computer program to help him decipher the alien language. Basically, the two of them, Ryland and the alien Rocky, learn each other’s languages in about three weeks and then start doing science together. That seems unbelievably fast. But I’m super at suspending disbelief, so I can live with it. Having a music-based language is really interesting. Also, their developing friendship is very heart-warming. And: first contact story! One of my favourite tropes. Rocky reminds me just a tiny bit of the Horta in classic Star Trek (except for the arms).

A little anecdote about language: at my job, I work a lot with lovely colleagues from India, whose English intonation is different from what I was accustomed to with American, Australian or British English speakers. When I first encountered Indian English speakers, via online meetings and calls about 15 years ago, I couldn’t understand them. It took me about three months until it suddenly clicked for me and the problem disappeared. I’m sure my Indian colleagues also found our German accents hard to understand. It was very embarrassing at first because I had to keep asking my colleagues to repeat what they said. That happened with both sides speaking the same language just with different intonation and accents – and the novel is trying to tell me that it’s possible to learn an alien music-based language in about three weeks (even with computer assistance). Really?? Maybe if you are a genius, like Ryland, and have the help of a cool alien like Rocky.

I also wasn’t sure if the nations of the world would really manage to unite enough to try to find a solution to a looming global catastrophe. Did it work in the novel, because it was a fast-approaching catastrophe? Because the slower and serious climate change situation the world is facing today doesn’t seem to be bringing us together yet to try to contain it effectively, even though it is getting really urgent. There are some beginnings, though, so I still hope for progress. The novel was a good look at what we could achieve if all of humanity would collaborate.

On the other hand, working together to save the world in the novel seems to trigger a kind of the end (human survival) justifies the means (destroying whole ecosystems to gain time for humanity) ideology in some of the characters – one character even said at one point that they didn’t care if other, non-human species became extinct. Is that the only way to act in such a case? I don’t know, but I don’t like it. I never like it when we as humans casually dismiss the other creatures that share our planet. I also didn’t approve of what was done to Ryland Grace. He didn’t end up an amnesiac by accident.

I found the book a thrilling engaging read, with slight weirdness I was quite willing to overlook and food for thought that stayed with me after I finished devouring it. Also, lots of room for an interesting sequel. With catastrophe for both planets averted and a new source of energy for interstellar travel now’s the time for some more contact and other endeavors: the beginnings of a space alliance perhaps between Earthers and Eridians…

So, a very good read, highly recommended. Makes me want to read The Martians (I’ve only seen the movie).

Keep safe, world.

2 thoughts on “Project Hail Mary

  1. I loved your review! (And pretty much agree with everything you said here 😄) Watching you gush about Rocky was so satisfying! I didn’t even make the Horta connection, but now that you’ve said it, I can’t unsee the parallels. One of the common ancestor theories that was brought up at one point also reminded me of a Next Generation episode, so I guess Star Trek left some traces 😉 Not that I mind, though, because I absolutely love Star Trek 🥰
    However, I did also find the same things unbelievable as you did. There’s just no way a human could learn an entire language and, with no previous musical talent, tell me which notes a chord consists of within a few weeks… Seriously, I want Ryland Grace’s skills! But I just loved the language stuff so much that I don’t care 😂 And while it might be a bit unrealistic that humanity would come together during a crisis like this, I love the hopeful optimism that Andy Weir always puts in his stories. Like you, I’m really hoping for another movie!

    Like

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