Book notes - Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary is the 3rd major novel to be released by Andy Weir, most well known for The Martian.

It chronicles an astronaut afflicted by amnesia attempting to save the earth. You know, the normal every day activities.

Project Hail Mary has been my favourite book of 2022 and I've been recommending it to all my friends. To me, it perfectly weaves semi-realistic science, human struggle and entertainment into a rich narrative with characters you can put yourself into. Simultaneously balancing conflict with calm scientific reasoning. There is tension but not in the "the bomb is about to go off" sense. More so in the we've discovered a problem and now use a sound scientific approach to resolve it.

It's almost like reading a doctors report on a patient. Breaking down their behaviours and questioning what it means to be human, why do we communicate with words and why do we sleep the way we do? Weir has an ability to take a microscopic focus on a small unassuming basic truth and rip it to shreds.

I read this at a time where I needed to escape to another world - to step outside of the everyday and enter into a situation where there was everything to play for.

In an effort to remember more from what I read, here is my brief review of Project Hail Mary and my key takeaways.

Actionable takeaways

  1. Humans have the inbuilt ability to thrive in subpar environments.
  2. Food is a seldom thought of limiting factor in the growth of civilisation.
  3. Engineering principles trump knowledge in many areas.
  4. By contrast, people who are good engineers and knowledgeable are the true geniuses.
  5. Scientific literacy is so vitally important.
  6. The characters battling various real world physical limits (like the distance between stars and the speed of light) is a hugely engaging and motivating for the storytelling.
  7. Our names are tied heavily to our identity and memories.
  8. The threat of going crazy with loneliness is not something to be sniffed at.
  9. The book used science to solve real world problems with real world consequences if they were wrong. The protagonist couldn’t rely on computers. They needed the information in their brain. It made me think that the sciences (including maths) are so poorly taught. Completely abstracted away from any real problem, simplified to the equivalent of brain baby food and then spoon fed to children. Science is interesting, useful and in my view, pretty cool.
  10. Simple ”truths” like waving, morse code, saying “hi”, sleeping and other things are so beautiful and could have been completely different. The first interactions with the alien is fascinating because you have to build up this base of language, which in their case isn’t even words!

Favourite Quotes

“Hurry”, “ok I’ll wait faster”

I’m smart enough now to know I’m stupid.

Human brains are amazing things. We can get used to just about anything. I’m making the adjustment.

Oh thank God. I can’t imagine explaining “sleep” to someone who had never heard of it. Hey, I’m going to fall unconscious and hallucinate for a while. By the way, I spend a third of my time doing this. And if I can’t do it for a while, I go insane and eventually die. No need for concern.