Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I generally don’t care for hard science fiction. By which I mean, sci-fi steeped in scientific accuracy and logic.

Blame a lifetime reading superhero comics. 

Superman has incredible abilities because solar energy from the yellow sun is the source of energy for Kryptonian power. That explanation is enough. You want to explain how his body metabolizes that sunlight? Ugh. Please — don’t.

Same goes for Green Lantern’s power ring: a weapon capable of transforming the wearer’s thoughts into physical constructs through sheer willpower. I don’t need a physics lesson. That’s all I need. 

But somehow, Andy Weir has this ability to make what I’d otherwise consider mind-numbingly tedious explanations on quantum physics, rocket science, chemistry, engineering — basically anything remotely scientific and mathematical — absolutely enthralling, and more often than not, insanely nail-biting. He dumps his heroes in life threatening predicaments, and works with the reader through the solution, which is always constructed around veritable science, and deciphered for the layman. And when things get speculative, you buy into it, because he’s earned it.

“Project Hail Mary” will be one of my favourite novels of the year. 

I know it will be, because as I raced through its pages I was combatting conflicting urges to read faster, and to slow down; to savour it. That’s always special. And honestly, I think the less you know about it the better. If the logline has you intrigued — a sole surviving astronaut, Ryland Grace, is on a mission to save Earth — jump in. Don’t read reviews — too late if you’re here, obviously — and go in as blind as you can. 

This is smart, compulsive, addictive science fiction. It’s destined to be adapted into a blockbuster flick, but with so much of its tension derived from Grace’s inner-monologuing and puzzle-solving, it’s not going to be an easy translation. So jump on the bandwagon now. The hype, I am happy to report, is totally justified.

Published: 4 May 2021
ISBN: 9781529100624
Imprint: Del Rey
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 496
RRP: $32.99

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

9780091956950Artemis, the sophomore effort by the author of The Martian, is a genuine page-turner, validating Andy Weir as a dependable entertainer capable of instilling his hard-science thrillers with humour and heart. But whereas those ingredients formed a delicious blend in The Martian, this time the result is blander, lacking the spice — the ambition, maybe? — and the unforgettable protagonist that made Weir’s debut unmissable. The Martian was unforgettable. Artemis settles for being merely enjoyable. Hardly a crime, and perhaps a consequence of vastly elevated expectations.

Set on a lunar colony several decades in the future, Weir is at his best when detailing the functionalities and technologies of Artemis, the multi-domed city on Earth’s moon. Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is a 20-something porter, with aspirations of becoming a member of the elite Extravehicular Activity Guild, which would allow her to give up her illegal (but thriving) side business as a smuggler. One day she is hired by Trond Landvik, a wealthy businessman, to sabotage some of Sanchez Aluminum’s automated lunar-mining equipment. Jazz agrees, but things don’t go as planned, and she soon finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy  involving a Brazilian crime syndicate and a revolutionary technology.

The Martian was a smart thriller, littered with math-and-science problem-solving, made nail-bitingly exciting thanks to its simple premise — survival — and Mark Watney’s sarcastic, likeable personality, and his ability to simplify technical concepts for layman readers such as myself Artemis just isn’t as clever, even though its premise is grander in scale. Those “science thrills” that made The Martian memorable aren’t here, besides a couple of moments, like when Jazz figures out how to ignite an acetylene torch during a moonwalk. Andy Weir should be applauded for trying something different — how many eyes would’ve rolled if he’d presented another space-survival tale — but the caper narrative that propels Artemis just isn’t particularly compelling, and indeed, is a tad predictable. Highly readable, sure; just not riveting in the stay-up-all-night way The Martian was.

The humour here falls mostly flat; forced, overly crass, never realy rising above snicker-worthy. Is Jazz’s constant reassurance to the reader that she doesn’t sleep around supposed to be funny? A throwaway line when she’s about to blow up two harvesters impacts like a slap in the face because, ha-ha, we can interchange ‘blow up’with blow jobs. Really? That feeling again, when Jazz tells the reader she giggled like a little girl, but “Hey, I’m a girl, so I’m allowed.” Ouch. Watney’s humour could be overbearing in The Martian, but it never made me groan out loud, and there were more hits than misses. Artemis would probably be a better book — and Jazz would certainly be more likeable — if the jokes were cut, or at least toned down.

The Martian was a book that you wanted to hand to a friend, insist they read it, pester them until they’d done so, then talk about it. Artemis isn’t that. It’s a fun, fast-paced  sci-fi potboiler; unspectacular, but enjoyable.

ISBN: 9780091956950
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Del Rey
Publisher: Ebury Publishing
Publish Date: 14-Nov-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianTHE MARTIAN by Andy Weir is a pulse-pounding survival tale about an astronaut stranded on Mars, cut off from Earth and believed dead (thereby eliminating the possibility of a rescue mission), with only his wits and threadbare equipment as his companions.

This is hardcore sci-fi; the story is supported by science grounded in quasi-reality, and told through traditional third-person narrative, but predominantly through first-person logs. Mark Watney is our astronaut-in-exile, and he’s a likeable guy: a botanist with a dry sense of humour, oftentimes goofy, despite the precarious scenarios he’s faced with. Weir perfectly blends the science with humanizing moments, weaving a tale that’s blissfully deprived of a ‘bad guy,’ and instead focuses on placing poor Watney in a wide range of circumstances instigated by mechanical failures, pure bad luck, and the unavoidable hazards of his environment – all of which require lateral thinking to escape from.

The final chapter is the most nail-biting prose I’ve read in a long time. Weir constantly dangles salvation in front of Watney, and then whisks it away. But it never feels like Weir is cheating and manufacturing events for the sake of thrills. Watney is never safe, and the final chapter of THE MARTIAN will see many readers biting their nails until the final page is turned. There is a moment, close to the very end of the novel, where Weir becomes a tad heavy handed with the ‘message’ of his story – a section that, purely in this reviewer’s opinion, could have been completely stripped – but it’s not enough to tarnish what is truly an enthralling novel.

Even if science fiction is a genre you tend to disregard, THE MARTIAN is well worth your time. It’s a survival story about a man you’ll grow to love and admire; it’s a cautionary tale, and a salute to the men and women who fly to the cosmos for the benefit of mankind.