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WesternSFA


Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Ballantine Books, $28.99, 476pp
Published May 2021

Best. SF story. Ever.

Oh, my…where to begin… Our hero, Ryland Grace, wakes up alone on a spaceship approaching Tau Ceti.  He has no memory of who he is or why he is there.  There were two other people on the ship but their bodies have long-since decayed.  He does retain his understanding of science and the ship’s computer has tons of information about the ship.  His memory does start slowly coming back so the story is told as he remembers more.

Sol is losing energy and the Earth is cooling – very, very bad for all living things.  Smart scientists figure out that an organism is literally eating the sun’s energy.  An international mission is created and a very smart woman is put in charge as a sort of project planner.  With unlimited resources, she is able to conscript and requisition absolutely anyone and anything to save Sol and humanity; nothing is off the table. Grace is a Junior High School science teacher and gets a personal visit from the project leader, Eva Stratt.  She read a paper he once wrote, which was ridiculed by everyone, where he contended that life could exist without the need for water.  Now that everyone is looking at this unknown organism that exists in space, his paper doesn’t seem so far-fetched.  He is brought onto the team and asked to contribute to the experimentation on the organisms.  He makes a monumental breakthrough and is immediately transported to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean where experiments that go boom won’t incinerate cities.  It turns out that the nasty little bugger, named astrophage, is a source of amazing and basically free energy; if only they can figure out how to stop it from destroying the sun.  The next monumental discovery is the fact that the universe appears to be ‘infected’ with the astrophage, many observable stars are also dying…with the single exception of Tau Ceti.  It becomes the mission to find out why Tau Ceti is unaffected while infected.  Someone has to go there and find out why.

When Grace does get to Tau Ceti he experiences an even more monumentally incredible event – there’s another ship already in orbit.  Another species has the same problem and had the same idea – go to Tau Ceti and see what’s up.  Gentle reader: this is not a space opera, there are no bad guys.  These are all scientists eager to learn and exchange information.  The author does a superlative job guiding the reader into new and interesting science while maintaining a fascinating storyline.  Grace’s growing relationship with the alien, nicknamed Rocky, is full of insights, humor and camaraderie.  The conflicts in the story are all about the science and, of course, if the two of them can find a way to save both planets - preferably not dying in the process.

The plot is a thing of beauty, and the story structure is just perfect.  His characters are relatable, funny, and sympathetic without being unrealistic.  The science, as usual for Weir, is fascinating and in small palatable chunks.  I have to wonder if Weir had aspirations of being a science teacher at one time.  It’s a small plot point that Grace wasn’t a willing participant in the mission but he doesn’t know that about himself until his full memory returns.  And the reason for it makes the climax more poignant.  Terrific closing scene!

This was just so very good.  Buy the book, keep Weir writing, and…Enjoy!.~~  Catherine Book

For more titles by Andy Weir click here

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