I listened to Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, and the audiobook was FANTASTIC. So fantastic that I can’t even imagine reading the book on the page. (My husband flipped through the book on a recent date night to Target – what? we’d just been to Barnes & Noble – and noted that there were some drawings and graphs and things that obviously are not available in an audio version. But I didn’t miss them.) The narrator of the audiobook was Ray Porter, and he was magnificent. He had to do so many different voices and accents and he did them all SO WELL. Okay, I don’t think I’m the person to say whether his Dutch or Chinese or Russian accent was spot on, but there was a clear differentiation between the characters and the accents sounded, to my untrained ears, very realistic. But beyond that, he just… injected so much emotion and energy into the book. I think this is a clear case of a narrator enhancing the book. Excellent audiobook, A+++ would definitely recommend.
Mini Plot Summary: I went into this book with nothing. I did not read the blurb, I did not look at the book cover, I simply knew that I’d enjoyed The Martian and so I jumped right in with both feet. So I am reluctant to give a synopsis here because I think it was GREAT to go in with no pre-conceptions. But… some people don’t like that. In case you are one of those people, I am going to add a little synopsis here just for you.
Ryland Grace wakes up in an ovular bed in a small room. He is tended to by robotic arms attached to the ceiling. He cannot remember who he is, where he is, or why he is there. Or, more urgently, why it appears that he is in space.
What I Liked About This Book: Everything. I can say that, because this is my blog. I liked the protagonist. He was a likable everyman sort of guy, if everyman had an encyclopedic knowledge of science. Yes, science. Not just biology or physics but science. That was part of what made him likable, to be honest. He was so smart, and so interested in learning and understanding. Just genuinely enthusiastic about calculations and origins and solving problems. Please also note that I don’t have the knowledge base to evaluate any of the science or math. I took it all at face value. But maybe if you are a physicist or a biologist or a linguist or whatever, you would feel about this book the way lawyers feel about legal thrillers: too many liberties, too few facts.
I liked too that this book is just a series of problems and solutions, one right after another. It’s fascinating. (And I constantly marveled at how Weir tackled all of the science in the book. What a tremendous mind he must have, to make complex concepts not only simple enough for me to understand, but also interesting enough to keep me engaged! How much research he must have done, to examine scenarios from all angles and come up with the most believable solutions!) (Weir also did this thing where he would leave little breadcrumbs for us to follow – like Ryland would note a certain object and then we would understand its significance much later. I love that kind of thing, and it requires so much planning and finesse to make it noticeable enough but not so glaring that it interrupts the flow of the narrative!)
I loved the book’s structure. It takes place in two timelines, both from the perspective of Ryland Grace. In one timeline, you have the present where Ryland is trying to figure out where he is and what he needs to do… while in the second timeline, you get Ryland’s memories as they slowly repopulate his brain, giving context and background that help make the present situation make sense. It was very effective.
The story is epic. I wish I could say more, but I don’t want to give anything away! But it’s a wonderful adventure story, with joyful successes and devastating failures. I listened to this as I went on my morning walks, and I found myself walking around with a big goofy smile as Ryland explored something he found wonderful or fascinating… or laughing when good things happened… or crying when difficult things happened. I also found myself walking much more quickly – and for much longer – than I normally do, just because the book was so exciting.
What I Didn’t Like About This Book: There were a couple of things that just grated me a bit. There is a… romantic entanglement in the middle of the story that takes up a chunk of narrative space (and led me to assume something that never came to fruition) and then it didn’t really go anywhere. If it had been a setup for the assumption I made, fine. But when that didn’t come to pass, I wondered why the whole thing was there at all, especially because it diminished the characters involved, at least in my eyes.
There is another discrepancy that I can’t really wrap my head around. It’s possible that Weir addressed it somewhere and I just missed it, but it bugs me a little. How can I talk about it in a non-spoilery way? There’s a reason for a major intersection of two characters… but then the description of one character makes it nearly impossible for me to understand how that intersection would have ever come to be (or would have been necessary in the first place). Again, it’s possible that I just missed the explanation. And I do feel fairly confident that Weir would have examined everything from all possible angles, so it was easy for me to get over it and move on.
My final, tiny issue with this book is that Ryland does something – something pretty major – and doesn’t take personal responsibility for it. Which seems dishonorable and also out of character. I mean, he does everything possible to address his actions, but I just wish he’d said, “Hey, this is on me.” or whatever.
Should You Read This Book? There is a lot of step-by-step thinking that’s outlined in this book, similar to what appeared in The Martian. Mathematical calculations. Scientific experimentation, explained step-by-step. Written, somehow, in a manner that made it interesting rather than tedious. But if you don’t like that kind of thing, you may do a lot of skimming. (Or, as I mentioned above, if you are a scientist, you might find it to be complete bunk, I don’t know.)
For me, though, Project Hail Mary was a suspenseful page-turning epic adventure with some really great characters and a lot of thoughtful, plausible (to this layperson at least), and really fascinating science. This book made me grin like a sappy dork and sob in genuine sadness as I was walking around my neighborhood. It’s a worthwhile read, and the audiobook was truly fantastic.