Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir’s latest science-fiction page-turner, follows Ryland Grace, a junior high science teacher, in his adventure in outer space.
There’s an organic substance called astrophage covering the sun, creating the potential for all sorts of environmental maladies. Based on a paper he wrote years ago, Ryland is tapped to help solve the problem using science.
Midway through the book, I was already hooked.
Nerds save the world
One thing I like about Project Hail Mary is that it has the same sort of pearl-clutching urgency that you would see in a science fiction movie. We’re talking about the potential end of life on Earth (imagine I just said that with the deep gravitas of one of those movie preview announcers). It’s an extinction-level event. And the heroes involved are looking to solve it with science.
I love seeing the actual process that goes into these high-stakes events. It’s not the sexy action that you see in movies with laser guns and heaving bosoms and Michael Bay-esque explosions. Often times it’s a bunch of nerds with their heads down, quietly and diligently working to figure out an equation. It’s the long line of failed experiments that eventually strike up a clue. Those are the people and the actions that will save the world.
This deep dive into the process is both Andy Weir’s greatest strength and his downfall. He spends a lot of time going over the process. A. Lot. Of. Time. To the point that his books are mostly filled with scientific processes with a smattering of the human condition thrown in.
Weir’s characters are intelligent, irreverent, at least a little bit rebellious against convention, curious, but ultimately, islands who lack deeply meaningful relationships. Their most meaningful interactions are arguably with the science itself. With processes and experiments. With the problem-solving strings within their own minds.
It’s fascinating to follow those strings and see what their witty, rebellious brains come up with. But it’s ultimately somewhat impersonal.
I have to take my hat off to Weir: dude is smart. And funny. But there comes a point in every Andy Weir book that I ask myself, “Am I smart enough to be reading this?”
Fortunately, he’s able to explain complex things in a way that idiots like me can somewhat understand. Those things together make his books, including Project Hail Mary, fascinating and easy to keep reading.
Just take a look at this passage:
“Are you out of your mind? Do you honestly think something as complicated as mitochondria would evolve the same way twice? This is obviously a panspermia event”Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary
Man, I wish I was smart enough to write that sentence. Or even understand it.
Little Hobbit, come out of your hole
The book also serves as a sort of fantasy fulfillment we see in a lot of dystopian YA novels: the world is ending, and it takes one special person, often on the outskirts of society, to leave their normal, humdrum life behind and save humanity with their unbefore tapped special talents.
In Project Hail Mary’s case: it’s a science teacher who wrote one contrarian paper and is also somehow enough of a genius that he’s plucked from relative obscurity (aside from the fact that everyone in the science community seems to know all about said obscure paper but nothing of what became of the man behind it) and put in charge of arguably the most important science experience that to have ever been done.
It’s the ultimate wish fulfillment. The Hobbit dream come true. To have someone in power come to us and say, “You’re not boring! Your life is of ultimate importance! Now come on this awesome adventure.”
I’m not knocking it. The personality Weir injects into his characters makes them so relatable. It’s so easy to get lost in the story as if we’re part of it. And my, oh my, the ending is so satisfying.
More reviews of Andy Weir books
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