Skip to main content

Project Hail Mary


Project Hail Mary

» Click here to read Curtis Edmonds' review.


Review #1 by Ray Palen

Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, THE MARTIAN, was one of the most phenomenal debuts I have ever read. I can proudly state that his latest, PROJECT HAIL MARY, is even better.

Weir dedicates the book to John, Paul, George and Ringo. As a huge Beatles fan, I love that each member of the Fab Four plays a different role in the story. It all starts with a cosmically frightening discovery by Dr. Irina Petrova, a Russian scientist. She has found a detectable line in our solar system, one that will be famously renamed the Petrova Line. She sees that something is impacting the luminescence of our sun, making it minutely less bright.

Although this doesn’t sound particularly alarming, other scientists and experts have determined that if the situation continues at this rate, all living beings on our planet might perish in a matter of decades. As the Petrova Line becomes huge, spanning from Venus to the sun, the Arc Light craft is sent out to collect samples and see what might be inside it that could be impacting our sun, or the star known as Sol. Stratt, an extremely powerful and mysterious woman who seems to speak on behalf of the entire planet, oversees putting together a solution to save Earth. One of the first people she contacts is Ryland Grace, a schoolteacher who also happens to be one of the preeminent scientific minds on the planet.

"PROJECT HAIL MARY transcends mere science fiction and humanizes it in a way that would make Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury enormously proud. Not only is the ending quite satisfying, it is one of the best I have ever read in this genre."

The primary element that Arc Light brings back for further study is Astrophage, initially referred to as a sort of algae growing on the sun, but is actually a highly volatile and hot element with nearly unlimited power and uses. PROJECT HAIL MARY nicely bounces back and forth between the days leading up to the launch of the Hail Mary spaceship meant to do what is necessary to save Earth by way of fixing the sun and the actual space journey and experiences of Ryland, who somehow becomes one of the three international members of the crew on this important and perilous journey.

When Ryland awakens from a long medically induced coma, he can barely speak and has no idea who he is. He eventually discovers that his two colleagues have perished, which means that both the Chinese and Russian members of the mission are gone. Like the storyline of THE MARTIAN, we have an American by himself in very unfamiliar territory trying to survive. The only difference is that, even with some advanced training, Ryland is no astronaut. He will soon find assistance in the most unlikely of forms.

Ryland doesn’t know how to steer a spaceship, nor does he understand what he is now supposed to do with the Astrophage fuel that has propelled it. All he knows is that he is light years from our universe and appears to be floating near an alien craft. PROJECT HAIL MARY has already been packed with nail-biting suspense and deep space technology, but the best is yet to come in the unexpected form of Rocky, the name Ryland gives the alien with which he makes contact. This being, who resembles an exceptionally large spider, actually waves at Ryland and puts together a quick air tunnel to allow him to reach the Hail Mary. Being both a scientific and mathematical genius, and with the assistance of a frequency analyzer, he finds a way to eventually communicate with Rocky.

Rocky is a pure delight, and you will not be able to get enough of him. The tonal notes he emits as his language is converted to the point where he and Ryland can easily communicate with each other. We learn that Rocky is an Eridian, and his planet is also in danger of extinction by the very same Astrophage that threatens the sun. They decide to do whatever they can to work together to save their respective planets. Rocky is a brilliant engineer, and we already know about Ryland’s scientific prowess, so this pairing is a thing of beauty. At one point, Rocky, who is also alone on his ship having lost all of his fellow space travelers, claims that he can fix Ryland’s craft to allow him to return to Earth. Up to this point, it is quite evident to Ryland that his trip was intended to be one-way.

They have their ups and downs, and not everything they work on together is successful, but it is such a delight to watch this interaction between a human being and a member of an alien race. Ryland soon comes to realize that he must make a choice: take Rocky’s idea to utilize the power of Astrophage from his ship to send him back to Earth a hero, but leave Rocky stranded and alone, or travel to Rocky’s planet and save it, but then starve to death as he cannot survive on Eridian food.

I won’t spoil the decision that Ryland makes --- because, of course, things might not turn out that way at all. I will say that PROJECT HAIL MARY transcends mere science fiction and humanizes it in a way that would make Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury enormously proud. Not only is the ending quite satisfying, it is one of the best I have ever read in this genre.


Review #2 by Curtis Edmonds

PROJECT HAIL MARY released just a week after Michael Collins died. Collins was the third member of the Apollo 11 mission, which launched a few months after I was born in 1969. Collins was the least famous of the three astronauts, but he made the record book by being the loneliest person ever. He was the pilot of the command module that was left in lunar orbit, which made him --- for the period of time when the Eagle was on the lunar surface --- all alone, far away from anyone on Earth or the Moon.

I don’t know if Collins, specifically, was on the mind of author Andy Weir, but his protagonist is in the same position, times about 11.9 light years. Dr. Ryland Grace is the only survivor left aboard the Hail Mary, Earth’s first interstellar spaceship. (This, of course, makes the Hail Mary literally “full of Grace,” which is a joke I did not get until halfway into the second read-through, and I literally smacked my forehead with my palm for missing something so obvious.)

"[PROJECT HAIL MARY is] a great deal of fun, and Weir is simply having the time of his life creating the various life forms that populate his universe."

The moniker Hail Mary was chosen not because it was commissioned by the Vatican but probably because, in American idiom, a “Hail Mary” pass in football is a last-ditch, desperation play to win a game that’s likely already lost. (The term was coined by Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, a staunch Catholic, who heaved a long throw to Drew Pearson to beat the hapless Minnesota Vikings in the waning seconds of a playoff game.)

Weir is justly famous for THE MARTIAN, which was about another solo astronaut who was stuck out on the sharp end of the spear, all alone. But that was just on Mars, almost walking distance by interstellar standards, and all that character was facing was his possible demise. Ryland is not only responsible for keeping himself alive and sane; it’s up to him to save the entire planet, or die trying. Actually, it doesn’t matter if he dies trying, because it’s a one-way suicide mission on which he’s going to die anyway. So there’s that.

Why Ryland needs to go on this mission, what it is that he is trying to accomplish and the speculative technology that makes both of these things work would all be helpful for our intrepid astronaut to understand. The problem is, initially, that his long-term memory has been effectively wiped, so that he has to come to a slow realization of his plight (helped along by all-too-convenient flashbacks) and what he needs to do for all mankind.

Like the protagonists of both THE MARTIAN and ARTEMIS, Ryland has to solve engineering problems of increasing complexity going forward throughout the book. Weir’s talent in this area is threefold. He is able to all at once set up these problems, help his characters solve them, and make what is going on explicable to an audience with (perhaps) very little understanding of the basic forces at work.

This is not an approach that results in having complex, well-rounded characters. Ryland can be excused for this because his memory was Swiss-cheesed, but the rest of the characters (seen mostly in flashbacks) are all one-note, sometimes painfully so. There’s also an overreliance on Generation X pop-culture references, all of which are dated badly here in 2021 and would be positively creaky by the near future in which the novel is set.

It’s tempting to say that PROJECT HAIL MARY is not going to appeal much beyond Weir’s current readership, no matter how wide that audience is. But overall, it’s a great deal of fun, and Weir is simply having the time of his life creating the various life forms that populate his universe. And if mankind gets saved in the process, that’s all well and good.

Reviewed by Ray Palen and Curtis Edmonds on May 28, 2021

Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir