Having read The Martian and seen the movie, I was anxious and excited to read Project Hail Mary. First, let me explore some of the problems causing mixed reviews. It is very heavy on science and technology. I thought the explanations by Andy Weir were difficult to follow for anyone without a strong background in mathematics, physics, chemistry or astronomy. Still, the author did this as well as possible. I found I did not need to fully follow the explanations to be along on the wild ride through space. It was sufficient to read about the actions, danger, and problems faced. I found the story so exciting and thought-provoking that it was enough for me to follow what was happening and be captivated by the suspense and tension without understanding the scientific theories involved. I imagine that readers with a strong background in science or math might enjoy fact-checking the accuracy of the explanations, but this is not necessary to believe this thrilling story.
The earth is facing annihilation in the not-too-distant future. Alien microorganisms, astrophages, are absorbing energy from the sun. The sun is cooling, and it is predicted that this will lead to an ice age, famines, wars for resources, and the eventual extinction of most of the life on earth. There seems to be a glimmer of hope on a planet, Tau Ceti, in a distant solar system. This is the only place discovered where astrophages are being destroyed.
The Petrova task force has been set up consisting of the worlds' greatest minds from many nations. They establish Project Hail Mary under the leadership and authority of the director (dictator) Eva Stratt. She is driven to save the world from impending catastrophe at all costs. What she possesses in authority puts her on a power trip. She is cold-hearted, lacks scruples and willing to set aside legalities, morality and ethics to achieve her goals. She will select a three-person crew of the best scientists and astronauts capable of withstanding a prolonged coma on their long one-way suicide journey into interstellar space.
Sometime in the future, aboard the spaceship Hail Mary, Ryland Grace awakens from an induced coma. Tubes, electrodes and IV lines are attached to his body. Nearby are the mummified bodies of his two crewmates. He cannot recall his name, where he is, or why he is there. As his physical body gains strength, he recovers snippets of memory of the past.
He was a dedicated, enthusiastic, and popular Junior High science teacher whose work was inspiring to his students. He had few friends. How did he come to be selected for this mission, and for what purpose? He is horrified to learn he is somewhere in deep space with no way back to earth. He knows he doesn't want to die, but there is no way home with insufficient food and fuel. His two crewmates could have explained the mission and helped him, but they are dead. He realizes this will soon be his solitary fate. As bits of his memory and thoughts begin to clarify, we learn more about his life and how he got to be on this mission into outer space. If only he could remember what he is supposed to do now!
He makes contact with a masterful engineer and mechanic named Rocky. To say more about this endearing and wonderful character would be a spoiler.
Ryland Grace has a snide, witty, and sarcastic sense of humour, usually directed at himself. It is a wild, exciting journey towards his destination, Tau Ceti. The ride is full of danger, twists and excitement. Through his tireless ingenuity, he manages to overcome obstacles never before faced by anyone. Does Grace muddle through and save the earth? What difficult choice must now face him? Of all the endings I could envision, I never thought of its fantastical conclusion which was most unexpected and satisfying for me.