PROJECT HAIL MARY Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace climbs aboard Hail Mary.
Andy Weir is one of science fiction’s current rising stars. He blew the world away with The Martian. Here, he has returned to dazzle us once more, with his 2021 novel Project Hail Mary. It is a book that reminded me of the midcentury science fiction I read as a child in the 2000s from my father’s collection; on the back of my copy, George R. R. Martin praises it for continuing that grand tradition.

Your protagonist is Ryland Grace, a middle school science teacher in San Francisco who was run out of academia for expounding unconventional science. It turns out that his theories are seemingly validated when a form of alien bacteria is found in space. These bacteria, however, are not the harmless microbes many hope we will find on Mars. Instead, they are far more sinister: they are draining the sun of life. Understandably, this is cause for widespread panic among humans.

The book divides itself between two time periods. One is Ryland Grace aboard the spaceship Hail Mary, having forgotten who he is and why he was put on this ship. The other is him in the past, practically abducted by the government to serve in the initiative to save all humanity. These are presented as memories that Grace remembers aboard the Hail Mary, altering his decisions as he remembers more and more. Grace can be contrasted with previous protagonists of Weir’s novels in a number of ways; you will notice a conspicuous lack of the profanity that defined the writing style of The Martian. Being a middle school teacher, Grace has to bowdlerize his frustrations, and the end result can be quite amusing.

I hesitate to say too much, but Weir has created one of the most interesting portrayals of alien life I have seen in a very long time. He succeeds in adhering to John W. Campbell’s famous dictum: “Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man or better than a man, but not like a man.” The alien life featured here has a completely foreign way of thinking compared to Grace, but it makes perfect sense given the confines that Weir has established for them.

Project Hail Mary is a deeply urgent book, which is fitting given how it is literally about the potential extinction of the human species. The thrilling, lean writing that characterized The Martian and to a lesser extent Artemis is here, and deployed very well. It is a perfect marriage of style and substance, one that keeps you reading far longer than you had previously intended to. I read The Martian in a single day; you can’t do that for this by virtue of its length (just shy of five hundred pages), but the urge will be there.

One smaller thing that Weir does is his portrayal of the international politics of the initiative to save all humanity. He has great faith in our governments’ ability to cooperate in such a scenario, one that I can only hope would be rendered true by such an event. I fear, though, that such a response (such as that to the ongoing pandemic) will be closer to World War Z than to Project Hail Mary. Andy Weir has knocked it out of the park again. This is him firing on all cylinders with a story as brisk as The Martian but even more emotional, and perhaps more profound. I feel I have read a modern classic.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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