–some potential spoilers–
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Hard SF
Publication Date: 04/05/2021
Ryland Grace is a man with many problems. Where is his spaceship? Why are the rest of his crew dead? And most importantly of all, what is he doing here . . ?
This is a very difficult book to talk about without giving anything away, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. The reason for this difficult is the central concept for the book. At the start of the book, the main character has amnesia. The fact that he’s called Ryland Grace is given away in the cover flap, and that won’t ruin anybody’s enjoyment. But so much of this book stems from Grace trying to piece together the fragments of his memory to understand what he is supposed to be doing and why. I won’t go into details, but the story here is a big one, and gripping in its scale.
As anyone who has read The Martian or Artemis will attest, Weir has a singular talent for making the most mundane science interesting. Grace’s investigations uncover reams of information, and even though Weir bombards you with facts and figures, you’ll be hanging on his every word. The prose is as sharp as it is moreish, and Grace makes for a fun narrator. Grace enjoys his work as much as Weir clearly enjoys his writing, and it’s an enthusiasm that is contagious. There’s a delightful simplicity in reading about a man unpicking puzzles and using brains over brawn to resolve issues. It’s almost therapeutic. I know some have complained about the humour in Weir’s books being childish, but for me it’s the child’s mind that brings the appeal. In tough time, it’s an immature humour that gets people through. Any sane adult would act the same when faced with the horror of Ryland grace’s situation. The humour is a shelter, and makes perfect sense both in and out of the narrative.
It’s the narrative structure that threw me off originally. Again avoiding spoilers, the action alternates between Grace in the present trying to solve his many dilemmas, and flashbacks to the past as he retrieves bits of memory. I’ve said before that I don’t like split timelines, but the framing nature of amnesia makes this one far more palatable. I dare say it’s among the best use of both split narratives and memory that I’ve come across in a long while. Amnesia is a trope I’m sure used to be a lot more common than it is these days, and Weir pulls it off brilliantly.
Project Hail Mary starts off hitting a lot of the same beats as The Martian, and those elements are used very well. The man stranded alone in space, the humour as a coping mechanism, the sheer adoration of science. But when the narrative shifts around the one-quarter mark (and I won’t spoil how) the book becomes something even better, and very different to Weir’s debut. The writing remains intimate, but the scope becomes larger. There are ideas played around with tick pretty much every box I’m looking for in science fiction, and that makes me a very happy reader indeed.
Project Hail Mary is proof that Weir isn’t a one-trick pony, and is a surefire hit for anyone who enjoyed his other works.