REVIEW: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, narrated by Ray Porter

illustrated cover, long view of an astronaut on a long tether floating in space before a yellow planet (or star?) streaked with blackWhy I read it:  I really enjoyed The Martian so I picked this one up when I heard the buzz.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian – while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

PLEASE NOTE: To accommodate this audio edition, some changes to the original text have been made with the approval of author Andy Weir.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I so enjoyed this audiobook! The narration is fantastic; Ray Porter nails the humour and pathos in the story and delivers a pacey performance which was *chef’s kiss*. I’m kind of curious what the experience would be like in print – as the note at the end of the blurb indicates, there are changes to the original text made in the audio version to enhance the listen. I think those changes made the book better; particularly when it came to understanding Rocky, the alien life form Grace meets while in the Tau Ceti system. Rocky communicates in chimes and musical chords and that’s exactly what you hear at first. Then later, once they learn to communicate with each other, there’s a vocal overlay of Porter’s voice which gives it a musical sound and serves to make it screamingly obvious when Rocky is talking. There is no need for dialogue tags in the sections where Grace is in space as the only two beings talking are he and Rocky. Clearly Porter had the benefit of the direction of the original text when it came to portraying the emotions called for but, hearing them, it was unnecessary to also listen to them described. The dialogue itself did that.  The entire experience was much more immersive and was also easier to understand. I don’t know of course because I listened and did not read, but I expect I’d have struggled to come up with the same voice for Rocky in my head. I’m sure that the listening experience made it easier to relate to him.

I probably benefited from not being a science geek. I have a very general understanding of basic scientific principles and could follow along with the story well enough but I don’t know enough to pick up when something is obviously wrong (if there is anything) or to have much difficulty hand-waving it away if it was beyond me. There wasn’t all that much that felt way above my head (at least, not as much as I feared there would be!) and I’m sure part of that was the way it was delivered. I wonder if I’d have found it denser and more difficulty if I’d read the book?

The story is told in “now” and “before” sections interchanging until all the salient details about how Grace came to be on the mission to Tau Ceti is revealed. It breaks the novel up nicely and parses out the information in such a way as to keep the tension and interest up; the listener learns what happened at the same time as Grace remembers; when he wakes from his medically induced space travel coma he has a form of amnesia. Each new “discovery” by Grace is accompanied by the emotions he experienced at the time and that too added to the immediacy of the story.

Eva Stratt was a very interesting character. For most of the book I liked her very much, even when she was being unlikeable. She had a job to do organising everyone on Project Hail Mary to try and save the earth after all and she didn’t have time for niceties. There was one thing late in the book I didn’t see coming but in hindsight all the clues were there, that made me amend my opinion of her but even then, I can’t say she was entirely wrong – she was a very “the ends justify the means” type person and perhaps that was exactly what was needed. I did like that she was clear-eyed about the likely consequences to her personally once the mission launched and went ahead anyway. At least I was always sure her motivations weren’t for personal glory or megalomania; she was laser-focused on saving earth, whatever the cost.

What else? There were some things that felt a little too hand-wavey for me and for which I’d have liked more detail. I won’t go into them because they occurred right at the end of the book and it would be too spoilery. I both liked and disliked the ending; I could see that was where things were going and (while not at all romantic) it did (overall) end happily but I had questions and there was a certain melancholy I felt at some aspects of it.

While I may have found certain parts of the story dragged a little in places had I read the book, I was so delighted by the narration I never felt bored or impatient. Project Hail Mary is, at its heart, a buddy book; the bromance between Rocky and Grace is the story. The SFF stuff is just the setting for it. Given how Rocky is described and my longstanding phobia, I could not watch the movie version if one is ever made (at least, not if he is portrayed the way he’s described in the book) but even with that in my imagination, I did think Rocky was sweet and wonderful. He was very much my favourite. I loved his excitement and I loved the friendship between the pair.

If I were to grade the content of the book separate to the narration, I’d say that the book is a solid B but the narration was an A+ – all combined, that brings me to an A-.  I definitely recommend the audio version if listening is your jam.

Grade: A-

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