Tag Archives: Andy Weir

“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir

Proyecto Hail Mary [Project Hail Mary]

I loved The Martian and skipped Artemis (which seems to be available only in electronic format), so I was optimistic about enjoying Project Hail Mary. And, yes, I liked it! 

SPOILER ALERT! If you’re sensitive about plot and plan to read the book, stop here. 

The assumptions made in Project Hail Mary are even more extreme (silly) than those on which The Martian was based, but Weir writes a very engaging adventure story. I particularly like the description of his protagonist Ryland Grace learning to speak the language of the space alien he nicknames Rocky. Rocky’s language is musical. 

Once one can speak to an alien, cultural issues arise. Weir takes on two big ones, food and sleep. Humans socialize over food. Not so the alien in this story! Humans can sleep alone, but Rocky considers that frightening. Initally, Grace is confused by Rocky’s offer to “observe” his sleep. It turns out the aliens can’t be roused while sleeping, and may need help.

In what ways does Project Hail Mary (published in 2021) reflect our contemporary experience of Covid? Both our human protagonist and his alien buddy are ALONE in space. Each has lost his crewmates. Each is from a planet suffering an existential threat. Their life support requirements are radically different, but they find ways to be “together”.

After finishing Project Hail Mary, I went back to the beginning to see how it “felt” from that perspective. Fifteen minutes later, I realized I had been, briefly, completely unaware of my surroundings. Weir can really get me engaged!

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“Red Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson, published 1992

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy)

This is the third book by KS Robinson that I’ve reviewed here in my blog. The other entries are dated

  • April 5, 2017 (New York 2140, published in 2017) and
  • June 5, 2017 (Aurora, published in 2015).

I originally dived into Robinson’s work because I wondered what a science fiction writer had to say about climate change.

Robinson does not hesitate to tell a BIG story! Red Mars covers an impressive amount of time and space. There are 100 people in the party dispatched to colonize Mars, and it’s hard to keep track.

After a long, slow build-up, the plot caught me up and I couldn’t stop reading.

Robinson postulates an amazing amount of technology, much of which is extremely (improbably?) sophisticated. He also assumes havoc on earth – overpopulation, takeover by multinationals, etc. The most disruptive technology he posits is a technique for individual rejuvenation, to restore to a person the immune system and ability to heal of a ten year old. This would add an unknown numbers of decades to life. On earth, score one more for Malthus…

As in New York 2140, Red Mars is told in two voices. One is an omniscient narrator and the other a “commentator”. It’s a weak device. Isn’t it an author’s job to construct a coherent narrative? The parallel structure works better in New York 2140, published more than 30 years later. Robinson improved greatly over those decades.

My problem with Red Mars is its length. Robinson includes way too much descriptive cogitation. A good editor might have helped him to tell the tale in half the number of pages.

Making comparisons with The Martian by Andy Weir is impossible to resist. The Martian is short and crisp. The author didn’t really set out to write a novel! His chatty, un-selfconscious prose is refreshing. His main character, Mark Watney, could have been the student next to me in college math or physics. No one in Red Mars was as clearly drawn.

So I won’t move on to Green Mars (the second of the Mars trilogy) any time soon. Too much going on in my life, too many other good books to read. If I become sick or disabled or have to drive to Tucson, I’m sure I will enjoy the rest of the Mars trilogy.

“New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson

You have to admire an author who stands an academic/cultural trope on its head. We’ve all heard of The Tragedy of the Commons, right? Heavy. Very heavy. Robinson brings us…the COMEDY of the Commons! I love it. Among other fancies, he produces a new Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn duo, Stefan and Roberto, a pair of “water rats” who live by luck and their wits in a stolen Zodiac in the drowned city of Lower Manhattan.

This book reminds me of The Martian by Andy Weir. In The Martian, one man fights a planet for survival. In New York 2140 Robinson creates a crowd of lovable eccentrics and follows their struggles on the hard-to-recognize landscape of New York after sea level rise.

Robinson treats himself to a “chorus”, the presence of a non-participant (identified as “citizen” or “the city smartass”) who comments on the setting (the New York bight) and sometimes addresses the reader, as in the following rant:

“Because life is robust,

Because life is bigger than equations, stronger than money, stronger than guns and poison and bad zoning policy, stronger than capitalism,

Because Mother Nature bats last, and Mother Ocean is strong, and we live inside our mothers forever, and Life is tenacious and you can never kill it, you can never buy it,

So Life is going to dive down into your dark pools, Life is going to explode the enclosures and bring back the commons,

O you dark pools of money and law and quanitudinal(sic) stupidity, you over simple algorithms of greed, you desperate simpletons hoping for a story you can understand,

Hoping for safety, hoping for cessation of uncertainty, hoping for ownership of volatility, O you poor fearful jerks,

Life! Life! Life! Life is going to kick your ass!”

Robinson is channeling Walt Whitman here. (Whether I believe this or not is a question for another day.)

The basic scenario of New York 2140 is that sea level rise, happening in two “pulses” rather than slowly, has transpired and a great deal of land has been abandoned. But New York City is just too valuable, so it evolves into three zones – dry land in northern Manhattan, an “intertidal” zone and a marginally occupied, heavily damaged Lower Manhattan. The book takes place in the intertidal zone, which is starting to “gentrify”.

Robinson quotes a number of sources throughout the book, mostly at chapter headings. Robert Moses, for example, who ruthlessly imposed his vision on the New York infrastructure. Additionally, H L Mencken, Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville, and assorted scientists and commentators. Some are worth checking out.

Robinson makes a “character” out of an existing building, the Met Life Tower on Madison Avenue. It is portrayed as having “personality”. In 2140, it is occupied by a housing cooperative. New York is very crowded, so successful professionals pay dearly for even a tiny bit of space, like a bunk in a dormitory.

Characters in New York 2140 make occasional reference to Thomas Piketty, whose book Capital in the 21st Century has been attracting attention recently. Piketty is a French academic who has studied the history of the distribution of wealth. Both Piketty and K S Robinson are asking how capitalism can be structured to benefit the citizens of a democratic nation. Believe it or not, there’s a copy of Piketty’s book in my livingroom. I plan to read at least some of it. Stay tuned!

I dashed excitedly through New York 2140 in a few days, and I’ve written this without consulting reviews. After I do that, I may learn that, one way or another, I’ve entirely missed the point.