Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary

What would you do if you woke up with amnesia, in a bed manned by a robot, with two corpses in the beds next to you? Project Hail Mary starts with exactly that premise.


Let’s back up a bit. Project Hail Mary is a 2021 novel by Andy Weir. You may know him from ‘the Martian’. Of course, now you think ‘that was Matt Damon, wasn’t it?’ And, yes, the Martian is also a famous movie starring Matt Damon. But that movie is based on a novel, and Project Hail Mary is from the same author. And, guess what, a movie seems to be in the works for Project Hail Mary as well.

Okay, now for a dilemma. Part of the charm of this book is slowly learning who the main character is, where he is, and why he’s there. So, I don’t think I should spoil that. However, I want to write a little more about the plot than simply the premise. I guess I’ll try to stick to the mechanics, without going into details.


The protagonist, Ryland Grace, wakes up with amnesia. The novel switches between his current adventures, and the slowly returning memories of what is happening and why. This is hard to pull off. Flashbacks are tricky, as they break the action of a story to look back at something that already happened. That stalls the ‘current’ flow of the story, and since the flashbacks already happened, creating tension is harder. It’s often better to have a few references to what happened and leave full flashbacks out. However, for Project Hail Mary it works.

The trick is that the main character has amnesia and you have no idea what is happening without the flashbacks. This adds tension back in, and because it is actually the main character remembering, it feels less like the ‘current’ story is paused.

That said, later in the novel, I found the flashbacks started to drag a bit. Not much, but some of the later flashbacks I though, ‘get on with it’.

Characters and physics

I can’t really say much about the characters in the book without spoiling things. So, let’s stick to the protagonist Ryland Grace. The book, like the Martian, has a lot of physics in it. As quickly becomes clear, Ryland knows quite a lot about physics. I won’t go into details about why.

The character arc the book manages to give Ryland is quite interesting. I would have expected the book to use a flat character and made it about the puzzle-solving and science involved. That’s what many stories with a focus on the setting do. However, in this book, Ryland gets his very own growth arc, which is well done.

But, as stated, the book has a lot of physics. Or rather, it explains a lot of physics, then bends the rules a bit. Again, I won’t say how, but the central problem of the book revolves around some very non-existent things and their physical properties. It’s clever, and makes the reader feel clever. But you have to like that kind of stuff. Obviously, I do.

The drawback is that Ryland ‘cowboys’ his way through a lot of the problems. It’s not as bad as TV shows, where the heroes regularly manufacture cures to diseases in a few hours, or divert asteroids seconds before impact, but it isn’t very realistic either. It’s fun, but I doubt if the situation of the book occurred in real life, that the solution from the book would be anywhere near viable. Or that the character could get away with winging things as he does. Some of the shit Ryland pulls… But, well, it’s a small price to pay for an entertaining book.


Project Hail Mary is a page turner. It’s fun, the tension is high, and Weir makes the words flow from the page. Ryland Grace is a likable guy, and his predicament makes you really root for him.

In short, it’s a fun story, if you like physics. If the idea of even the simplest physics theory makes you yawn, this book might not be for you.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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