Project Hail Mary is the latest novel by Andy Weir, the author famous for The Martian. Much like the first novel, this one begins swimmingly - the narrator wakes up from a coma to find himself in a windowless room with two dead people and robot arms taking care of him. As he gains energy, he observes his surroundings with a scientific bent of mind and figures out that he is in a craft flying far away from Earth. On exploring the rest of the spacecraft and onboard computers and with flashbacks of his recovering memory, he figures out that he is on a suicide mission to save Earth!
The book centers around an alien bio-organism called Astrophage. It is found to be breeding in the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Venus, thriving in the high temperatures on the Sun’s surface and dimming it, thus threatening humanity. A bit out there? There’s more: the protagonist Ryland Grace and other scientists study astrophage and figure out a way to use its energy to propel spacecraft at incredible speeds. Astraphage is found to be plaguing many nearby stars, except for one - Tau Ceti - and no one knows why. To save Earth, a spaceship powered by astrophage is built and Grace is sent on it to find a solution at Tau Ceti.
Huge leaps are required by the reader here since at Tau Ceti we also meet an alien named Rocky from another (Eridani) solar system, who is also there to find a solution for astrophage for his star! Grace and Rocky team up to figure out why Tau Ceti is not affected (a predator microbe named Taumoeba) and take that home to their planets.
The author is very meticulous with his science and math, so there is no insult to the intelligence here. Grace is a high school science teacher to boot and so demonstrates how a lot of discovery can be done with common equipment (found inside the spaceship) and common science experiments. The spaceship design, on which the story rests, is unique and suited to simulate artificial gravity. But much like Martian, the writing quality is disappointing (this is no Dune or 2001), literally having the tone of a typical big-budget American Hollywood/TV script. The characters are all one-dimensional, again, made to order for a blockbuster Hollywood adoption. Grace and Rocky make for a good pair though, because of the substantial investment made in the story to discover each other’s language and communication medium. Grace and Rocky face an endless barrage of problems (Martian again), which they solve successfully using science! The problems and solutions are interesting, but why so many? This book was fast to read, especially in the beginning when you are truly intrigued to discover the real premise and after Grace and Rocky team up to solve their problems. Definitely a fun science fiction read.