Let me preface this review by saying I’m not a big fan of Andy Weir’s books. I’m a social scientist who dabbles in the hard sciences, and I run a research lab. So this is where I’m coming from.
I read Artemis when it came out and I was glad that it featured a strong female lead with a diverse background, Butttt…I kept feeling like it was written by a man imagining what it would be like to be a strong female lead with a diverse background. I didn’t hate it – it just felt off to me.
I don’t say this to imply men cannot write great female characters – I just felt like Weir doesn’t get what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. My feelings were confirmed with this book (Project Hail Mary) as well.
If I wasn’t someone who researches for a living, maybe I’d feel differently. It’s sort of like asking me to read a fiction book about archaeology: it is hard not to see faults and problems in a storyline as someone who knows what it is like to work in an academic setting or be on an actual archaeological dig (spoiler alert: it isn’t as nearly dangerous or exciting as Indiana Jones 🙂 ).
My frustrations with Project Hail Mary are pretty much the same as those with The Martian: lone male scientist solves big, potentially world-ending problem on his own without the aid of anyone. In the case of Project Hail Mary, the lone scientist is stranded in space (remind you of The Martian at all??) with an alien creature and has to forge communications with it to save the entire universe.
It is this bootstraps narrative that grinds on me as a researcher and someone who understands how scientific knowledge is generated. Yes, there are lots of brilliant people out there who come up with theories and ideas on their own (here’s looking at you, Einstein), but most work is done collaboratively. Most work that’s replicated and respected is done in a lab with a team of researchers.
Maybe I’d be less annoyed at these narratives he keeps pushing if I knew he wasn’t aware of how higher ed works, but he knows better as someone with a science background and someone who has parents who were scientists. I appreciate the fact he includes lots of details about the science of the shuttle or the mechanics of whatever is happening, but I need a bit more of the human element to really get into the story. I am just not that enamored with men flying in space (e.g. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk come to mind here!). It is a tired narrative. I know Weir can do better because he isn’t a bad writer.
Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!