By Chet Yarbrough
Project Hail Mary
By: Andy Weir
Narrated by: Oliver Wyman
Andrew Taylor Weir (American Novelist.)
In a bit of serendipity, “Project Hail Mary” reminds one of Jason Lanier’s memoir, “Dawn of the New Everything”. Lanier commented on a fascination with exhibiting himself as a crustacean in virtual reality. Andy Weir seems similarly captivated.
Andy Weir wrote the fictional novel “The Martian” about an astronaut being stranded on Mars. It became a block buster movie starring Matt Damon.
As an astronaut, Damon overcomes many things that might go wrong when exploring Mars. Weir vivifies and magnifies that danger by exploring the entire cosmos in “Project Hail Mary”.
Like the hero of “The Martian”, Weir creates a character who understands the science of space.
“Project Hail Mary” is the story of a brilliant Junior Highschool Science teacher who becomes a reluctant astronaut. This teacher overcomes many of the mental and physical challenges of space exploration. On his journey, he becomes the first human to contact an alien life.
A striking feature of Weir’s writing is the science he incorporates in his novels. As an only child, Weir is raised by a physicist father and electrical-engineer mother who may have had something to do with his interest in science.
Whatever Weir’s influences, “Project Hail Mary” is a tour de force of science and space travel for non-scientists. Whether Weir’s writing has scientific merit or not, “Project Hail Mary” is a great entertainment, narrated by Oliver Wyman, a master of the art of audio presentation.
Weir takes us on a journey to another solar system. Weir manages to suspend one’s imagination with a tale about a threat to earth on the scale of global warming. Ironically, global warming’s threat is subsumed by a greater threat–the growth of a fungus originating on Venus that absorbs the energy of the sun. Without that energy, Earth is doomed.
As has happened many times in history, a common threat creates friends of former enemies. Like the creation of a political alliance in WWII to defeat an enemy aggressor, a science alliance of independent countries is formed to defeat nature’s aggressor
In Wier’s story, a brilliant group of scientists from around the world assemble to assess the threat of a fungus that absorbs the energy of the sun.
A common threat demands singular, decisive, and coordinated action. Imminent threat requires focused leadership.
In Weir’s novel, that is Eva Straat. She is not the heroine of the story, but she is a leader. She is an historian who clearly understands the gravity of the threat—no energy from the sun, no life on earth.
Weir’s hero is Ryand Grace, a scientist who chooses to abandon science research to teach Science at a junior high school. Grace is a reluctant hero. He is commandeered by Eva Straat because of a science paper, written by Grace as a parting shot to the science community. The leading scientists of the day said no life exists without water. Grace’s science paper claims life on earth is not necessarily true for all life in the galaxy. Grace is convinced that water is not necessary for all forms of life. He quits the science community that vilifies him for his contrary opinion.
Teachers are great managers that know how to control resources, whether human or material. Grace is a quintessential manager.
Weir’s story credibly develops a belief that life might exist without water and oxygen interactions with the other elements of the periodic table. Grace eventually meets an alien he calls Rocky. Rocky is an alien from another solar system whose home planet is facing the same energy consuming fungus. This alien has no eyes but can see, no ears but can hear, no hydrogen or oxygen in his world, and looks like a crustacean with multiple appendages.
There are many story lines to follow in Wier’s imaginative novel. Some common threads are teaching moments. There is the thread of our world’s end if evolution is unable to keep pace with social and environmental change. There are the principles of friendship, hardship, scientific understanding, teacher and science contribution to society, crises response by the few, the one, and the many, willingness to sacrifice one’s life, and moral choice.
An overriding principle in “Project Hail Mary” is the story of evolution. Life’s adaptation is the soul of the story. Only through evolution does sentient life have a chance to survive.