Project Hail Mary Review: Taking Hard Sci-Fi To The Neighboring Stars

Spoiler Free Review (3.5 minute read):

(Traduction française ci-dessous)

Feeling emotions while reading a book requires a suspension of belief and a break from your physical surroundings. You have to let go of where you are, your problems, your baby basset hound whining on the couch, and become lost and consumed in the story. Or else you’re just a person sitting there holding a pile of neatly-organized paper. 

For biographers, memoirists, and nonfiction writers the process of suspending belief is less of a challenge than for Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers. The reader trusts that the contents of the book actually happened in reality, thus giving weight and drama to the events in the narrative. 

But a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer is not only working against the inherent challenge of suspending a reader’s belief from their reality, but they have to instill a new reality with new rules that the reader will accept, spiritually buy into, and consciously follow.

How did Joanne Rowling sell half a billion Harry Potter books? Yes, the characters are great/enduring, the plots are exciting, the writing is solid, and the ideas are fascinating…but she also grounded the magical world as firmly as she could in a reality similar to our own. There’s a magical government, a magical bank, a magical transportation system. In an interview on her writing process Joanne admitted that one of her major challenges in constructing Harry Potter’s world was not creating the instances of magic or the fantastical powers of witches and wizards, but creating the constraints in the magical world that controlled and gave tension to the magical elements/events.

Too many fantasy and Sci-Fi books ignore how important constraints are to creating tension and drama. Why do readers desire constraints in their stories? One reason is because we battle with constraints every day of our lives. Our #1 constraint? We want to do things in life yet we’re perpetually decaying and the clock is ticking. Books help teach us what we want, who we are, and what to do in this brief flicker of existence. The best books don’t waste our precious time. Neither Joanne Rowling nor Andy Weir waste their reader’s time. Andy is a master of using Sci-Fi constraints and a leader in the Hard Sci-Fi genre.

Andy Weir is doing for Sci-Fi what Joanne Rowling did for fantasy. He grounds the narrative as much as possible in reality to add depth and drama to the story. But while Joanne grounded her world with social constructs similar to a human society, Andy grounds his world in scientific concepts and the natural laws of the universe. You learn scientific and space things while reading his books. You learn how solid objects, when you analyze them in the “teeny, tiny realm,” are actually more like thick jungles than brick walls.

What makes The Martian, Andy’s first book (which was a smash and made into a blockbuster Ridley Scott movie) so compelling is that he deeply researched the science and made it as accurate as possible (an exception being the sand storm/wind force on Mars in the beginning…Mar’s wind has high velocity but low force, Andy said he deliberately sacrificed accuracy for dramatic purposes in this case). He wanted to answer the question: how could a human survive on Mars? He crowd-sourced the writing process on his blog and received feedback from loyal readers/needling nerds on whether or not he got the science right. He’d write a chapter, research for three months, then write another. The process worked. He put the book on Amazon (at the insistence of his readers) for the cheapest price possible (.99, he didn’t need the money, he’d been software engineer for 20 years) and soon after the book skyrocketed (pun intended) in popularity. (Within a week he received a call from a literary agent for a book deal and another call saying the movie rights had been sold. Andy said it was a good week.)

“Finally..the publishing world…gives a shit…finally…I can go…home…”

But he also kept The Martian‘s plot grounded in reality and constrained. I saw an interview of Andy where he mentioned that he never wanted any “lightning strike conflict moments” to happen to his character. A “lightning strike conflict moment” is when a character is doing something and then BAM-OUCH-SIZZLE, out-of-the-blue thing arrives that causes a problem. This doesn’t feel satisfying to the reader. So Andy had each new problem/challenge that happened to his character (poor Mark Watney) be born out of the character’s previous solution to a previous problem. Through this technique you more deeply feel the character’s struggle. 

Andy is well-read in the Sci Fi Genre (he grew up reading the Sci Fi classics Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke) and he is passionate about NASA and space science. Just as Joanne Rowling spent five years creating the Harry Potter world so that the reader feels like the story teller knows everything about the magical world, Andy Weir has spent his lifetime learning about NASA and space travel, so the reader feels an expertness behind the narrative. What’s funny is that Andy is scared to fly on planes.

Andy asks the questions in his three books: what is possible on Mars, what is possible on the Moon, and what is possible in space travel + neighboring star hopping, given the constraints? 

Andy is extremely intelligent, but never condescending. He boils down complex, scientific ideas into simple statements, not to show how smart he is (I don’t think cares whether or not you think he’s smart) but because he sincerely enjoys sharing the discovery. He spends months researching the science behind a specific detail that might be one sentence in the book. He is also funny, making light-hearted jokes that often stare death/the void of space in the face.

There are writers who love to write and who have stories they must express and there are writers who do it for a living even though they have nothing more to say (85% of published books). Andy was laid off by AOL fifteen ago and with an ample severance package spent three years trying to find a literary agent to publish a book he was writing. He received only rejections. He thought: “Well, I tried,” and went back to being a software engineer who wrote code. But he loved writing, so he kept at it, publishing stories on his blog. That’s when he created The Martian (one of the three books that he was writing simultaneously at the time…another was about mermaids and another about an alien invasion. In an interview he said that during this period he had “no life”).

After The Martian, Andy became a “full time writer” and wrote Artemis, a story about a sassy, sharp porter/smuggler named Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara who lives on the Moon and gets pulled into a conspiracy for control of the tourist-attraction city. The book is entertaining, the plot moves (readers on Goodreads voted it the best sci-fi novel of the year), the climax is great, and the science is interesting, but Andy’s secondary characters often feel the same/flat. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read, enjoyable enough for me to feel eager for the next one.

Andy finds his stride in Project Hail Mary. He focuses in on his main character Ryland Grace, a high school science teacher, and spends the majority of the narrative on his journey. The story opens with Grace waking up on spaceship with two, dead corpses. Grace has lost his memory, but it starts coming back to him in flashes. He realizes that he is on a mission to save humanity…

I cried reading this book, I laughed. Near the end I was walking down the sidewalk with my kindle trembling in my hands and bumping into disgruntled Parisians wearing colorful scarves. There are fantastical Sci-Fi elements in this book, but they were never too much to shock me out of the narrative. Andy approaches problems such as “humans would need an ENORMOUS amount of fuel to travel to other stars” and uses elements he’s already reasonably introduced in the narrative to solve them. And because he is so well-read in Sci-Fi (and “well-watched in Star Trek), I never felt like he was using worn Sci-Fi tropes or clichés when introducing fantastical Sci-Fi things. They always felt fresh (but perhaps I’m not well read enough in the Sci-Fi genre). There’s goodness in the book as well, and a relentless pushing through obstacles. And if there’s a reminder we all need right now, at the tail end of this virus invasion, it’s to remain good while overcoming our challenges. On another note, here’s a picture of a whiny baby basset hound. Have a good Earth single rotation.

“So you want to travel amongst the stars and save the world? First rub my belly.”







All my notes on the book below…if I receive enough positive feedback on this review I’ll write another one (for those who have read the book) digging deeper into the story.

Project Hail Mary

100: good ending: “Who can tell me the speed of light?” Twelve kids raise their claws. —is this a subtle (conscious?) reference to the end of The Martian movie, where all the students raise their hands? 
99: hah: I love meburgers. I eat one every day. —Is meburger trademarked?? T-shirts?!
99: But I try to stay positive. What else have I got?
98: moving reunion scene.
97: cover, Grace jumping off with a tether…
97: typo: I only know where the ship is there.—should be: I only know where the ship is because 
97: typo: …made to find celestial bodies hundreds of thousands of kilometers across, not spaceship…” should be: not a spaceship. 
97: I smile. It’s working. 
96: keep hope alive and all that. 
96: hah, yes!: “I’m definitely going to die!”
96: I rub my hands together, take a sip of water, and get to work. 
96: hah, so good: “This is the astronavigational equivalent of doing donuts in the 7-Eleven parking lot. 
95: typo: “And all this is going on the edge of the Tau acetic system.” Should be: …going on at the edge…
95: hah, acknowledgement of the vanity: “Statues, parades, et cetera.”
95: Chapter 29: will Ryland go and save Rocky? How much time would this add to his trip? Not enough food and fuel. Uncertainty is too big. Has to return home. 
95: typo: …they figured out how to hide from nitrogen by sneaking into in the xenonite itself! —should be: into the xenonite…
94: Profound: “Yes, I made a strain of Taumoeba that could si I’ve nitrogen. But evolution doesn’t care what I want. And it doesn’t do just one thing at a time.” Is Rocky okay?!?? 
94: hah: “it’s hard to be an America, okay?”
94: interesting: “When you get down to the teeny, tiny realm, solid objects are more like thick jungles than brick walls 
92: Good line: “I owe my life to DuBois‘s preferred method of suicide.”
92: Okay, don’t panic. Think clearly. Then act. 
92: typo: “And hey, they’ll probably analyze it learn how to make their own.” —should be “…analyze it and learn his…
91: hah, daunting: “I’m going to have to eat this Bitter Pill Chow every meal for several years.”
91: But thanks to time dilation, when I get home all those folks will be a generation older than me. 
91: More accurately, hell is coming to us. 
90: true: “People nowadays…they have no idea how good they have it. The past was unrelenting misery for most people.”
90: Godspeed, buddy. 
90: Goodbye, friend Grace.
89: but hey, fashion isn’t about function or convenience.
89: Hah: …a worn old teddy bear she probably had as a kid, a kilogram of heroin…
89: hah: humans leak! Gross! 
88: hah: I spend a lot of time un-suiciding this suicide mission. 
88: Hah: Grumpy, angry, stupid. How long since last sleep, question?
88: So what? It’s only an extra year and a half. What’s the big deal? I don’t have that much food. (The Martian echo)
87: AstroTorch (TM)
86%: Same with writing, books: “It’s a weird feeling, scientific breakthroughs. There’s no Eureka moment. Just a slow, steady progression toward a goal. But man, when you get to that goal it feels good.
84: Humans are very different…we get diseases all the time. (Written pre-Covid-19?!)
84: good line: “The human body is more like a borderless police state.”
84: Earth’s air is 78% nitrogen. 
84: hah: The Hail Mary is currently the Taumoeba party bus. 
83: typo debatable: « That’s the closest to the center of ship I can get. » -of the ship. 
&3: I’m just a guy with the genes to survive a coma. 
83: great scene revealing that Grace never wanted to join the mission. 
82: « I may not have all the answers. But I’m here. »
81: hah: ride off into the Tauset.
78: debatable typo: “I installed it and got ship’s power back on without a hitch. » —without the ship’s power 
78: Beatles reference: hard day’s night 
78: hah: Use taumoeba farts to propel ourselves through space. 
77: interesting: when you get down to it, smell is just tasting at range.
75: Evolution is extremely good at filling every nook in the ecosystem. 
75: Grace and Rocky will discover that the predator is a Substance that in abundant supply on Earth. Helium? 
74: typo: That makes no sense, I said, « Those generators uses a tiny, tiny bit of Astrophage… » should be « use a tiny, tiny bit of Astrophage. 
74: prediction: last minute before launch Dubois elopes with his lover. Ryland Grace has got to step in. 
74: « A self-sacrifice instinct makes the species as a whole more likely to continue. »
73: « Intelligence evolves to give us an advantage over the other animals. But evolution is lazy. Once a problem is solved, the train stops evolving. So you and me, we’re both just intelligence enough to be smarter than our planet’s other animals. »
73: Fascinating: Math is not thinking. Math is procedure. Memory is not thinking. Memory is storage. Thinking is thinking. Problem, solution. You and me think the same speed. Why, question? » 
73: Hah: « I’m smart enough now to know I’m stupid. That’s progress. »
72: Commander Yao: a gun can actually be a complicated way, sometimes going wrong and slightly missing, look at Vronsky in Anna Karenina 
72: Never knew this: The suffocation reflex comes from excess carbon dioxide in the lungs, not lack of oxygen. 
72: software engineer: « It’s intensely satisfying. Like that feeling when you blast an air duster into an old computer. »
72: Interesting: At 29 atmospheres, air acts almost like water. 
71: At least being stupid isn’t permanent. I’ll press on. 
71: « My seal held. » reminds me of Jazz sealing up that building on the moon, a seal so good it caused everyone else to pass out from them blast…best scene in the book. 
71: « This orbit will probably decay over time » -interesting, didn’t know orbits decayed. 
70: That gram of Astrophage has 100 trillion Joules of energy. 
68: hah: sorry, earth. There. Much better last thought.
66: like this phrase: the engines would punch my ticket.
64: American mentality: “Earth’s had five mass extinction events in the past. And humans are clever. We’ll pull through.”
64: The faster you go, the less time you experience.
61: !!! This is where it all started.
61: More predictions: Rocky dies while working with Grace. Astrophage originates from Tau planet/Adrian 
59: software engineer author: “I pulled my laptop out and fired it up.”
59: good metaphor: Eridians going out in space in suit like. Human in scuba diving gear in black paint 
59: 7% methane, prediction, there’s life there.
57: “So we’re on our way to the mysterious planet.” Let’s go!
56: Hah: Are all Russians crazy? Yes…it is the only way to be Russian and happy at the same time.
55: I’m going to live! (Twisted, dark side of me was actually hoping he’d have to die out there. Cope with the morality and last moments alone. Just like I was hoping Mark would pass away on Mars and Jazz on the moon…)
55: I try not to think of my impending doom
55: good end of chapter: “How long do humans live, question?” 
54: Rocky = 291 years old/689 year average Average human life span = 72.6
Rocky is 30.66 human years old
He’s been there for 46 years…4.84 human years 
54: typo: “Sometimes he dips his carapace when sad, but I’ve never seen him dip is this far.” —-dip his this far. 
53: I’m the same way: “I know animal testing is necessary. I just don’t like to stare at it.”
53: yes: “you and me science to kill Astrophage together,” —-will be interesting to see how Hollywood/movie makes Rocky and handles his communication 
53: And pack instinct is required for a species to become intelligent.
52: haha so good: « I spent the next hour tidying up. I wasn’t expecting company. »
51: When the alternative is death to your entire species, things are very easy. No moral dilemmas, no weighing what’s best for whom. Just a single-minded focus on getting thr project 
51: haha: « Can we just keep poking Antarctica for more methane to keep Earth’s temperature right? »
51: interesting: Antarctica used to be a jungle 
50%: Earth was seeded by some ancestor Astrophage.
50%: Typo: Still unusual. Humans and Eridians are close in in space.
50: Typo: And with their unparalleled materials technology…should be materials and technology 
49: Climatologist from Paris: François Leclerc 
47: haha: « I’ve never heard of pair production before. » « It’s a thing. » « okay. » 
47: typo: How the can a civilization develop space travel without ever discovering radiation?—-Should be: How can a civilization…
45: « Well, you’re not alone anymore, buddy, » I say. « Neither of us are. »
45: Hah, …but he threw shade when I talked to myself. 
44: « I sleep now » prediction: Rocky 1 dies. He thinks sleeping is dying. 
43: Apt phrase: « Best of both worlds. »
43: good line: « Broadly speaking, the human brain is a collection of software hacks complied into a single, somehow-functional unit. » in short, the human brain is a mess. 
41: Hah: And that’s a damn fine army. » America! Yeah!
40: Spider alien reminds me a bit of the alien in the movie arrival 
36: hah, yes, his name is Rocky. 
Typo: 35%: …but I can’t expect Eridians to know the intricacies a universal airlock. Should be—of a universal airlock 
33%: truth : Human beings have a remarkable ability to accept the abnormal and make it normal. —-subconscious survival technique? 
33%: Prediction: will breaching the hull here come back to bite him in the ass someway later on (perhaps when he tries to leave the system)?
32: Hah: I’m telling my new friends that I can handle slightly faster deliveries.
31: Hah, “what do I even call noble gasses that don’t react with things? Ignobles?”
30%: typo: Pack a bag at meet us at Genève Aéroport. Terminal 3, private plane called Stratt.” —-should be: Pack a bag and meet us 
30%: typo: This is a fairly complicated piece of machinery and you’ll breaking the ship into two parts. —-should be “you’re breaking” or you will break. Or: “You’ll be breaking.”
30%: typo Shouldn’t faring be fairing? 
29%: Typo: Stratt says: “That fascinating,” should be “That’s fascinating.” 
29: Panspermia: life originated from chemical precursors of life 
29: Opening the cylinder while outside of the Orlan suit was big risk. Why not open it while still suited up? 
28: Taulight…re-naming reminds me of pirate-ninjas / one-kilowatt hour per Martian day/sol. 
28: I’m functional enough for now. I press on. 
28: Chrysalis-lock?
27: Hah: Besides, if there is hostile intent, what would I do about it? Did. That’s what I’d do. I’m a scientist, not Buck Rodgers. 
27: I’m the guy! I’m the guy who meets Alena for the first time. Prediction: foreign ship is powered by humans. 
27: …200 meters away from an honest-to-God alien!
27: nice detail: A bead of sweat separates from my forehead and floats away. 
26: Interesting: When European mariners first came across Asian mariners, no one was surprised they both used sails. 
26: hah: Still the most exciting moment in human history.
26: typo: I type some numbers into the calculator do an ARCTAN operation, and:-should be …into the calculator to do an ARCTAN operation. Or:…type some numbers into the calculator, do an ARCTAN, and
26: Holy fucking shit! (Saves the cuss words) 
26: It’s a ship. WTF!!!!
25: hah: I do a wiggly little dance in my chair. 
24-25: arrival at zero-g is a bit abrupt in the narrative. 
24% Typo: “I have to dig through a few layers of UI on the Beetles panel to find to the launch command, but I find it.” Should be: …Beetles panel to find the launch command.”
23: I wipe my eyes and try to think of other things. My whole species is at stake here. 
23: When you get going near the speed of light, you experience time dilation. 
22; hah: a more tactile approach: I’m gonna start pushing buttons! 
22: who is Werner von Braun?
22: The NannyBot
21: The entire output of a nuclear reactor for a year comes a single kilogram of mass (Uranium). 
21: Oh shit: « But if our sun dims by ten percent we’re all dead. »
21: Our best guess is that Astrophage can only survive so long without a star and it can coast about eight light-years in that time.
21: Our sun was infected by a star called WISE
20: Star mold!!!
20: Such a good idea, detail: professional astronomers don’t study local stars. They look at far-away things. It’s amateurs who log data on local stuff. Like train spotters.
19%: typo: It had big Chinese flag over it. Should be: « It had a big Chinese flag flying over it. » 
18: It’s simple, really. Get energy, get resources, and make copies. It’s the same thing all life on Earth does.
18: Lots of species migrate to breed. Why would Astrophage be any different?
18: microwave theme: net is too small forMicrowaves so you can watch your food cook without your face melting off. 
18: Light is a funny thing 
18: Who is Shemp?
17: That’s pretty much a rule in electronics: you never get diodes right on the first try. » what are diodes? Look this up later. 
16: pun: breathe a sigh of relief and stop working in argon-filled rooms. 
16: I’m going to die out here. And I’m going to die alone.
15: excellent writing: “These kids were going to grow up in an idyllic world and be thrown into an apocalyptic nightmare.”
15: Thirty years? Trang laughed. “That’s forever.”
15: hah: “My dad says that [climate change] is not real.” —“Well, it is.”
14: « I commend your body to the stars. »
14: great description of Olesya Ilyukhina. I’d like to meet her, « one of those infectious and jovial personalities. »
13: So why am I the one out here? All I did was prove that my lifelong belief was wrong?
11: an organism with a diet of stars: Astrophage 
11: « like cane toads in Australia. »Look this up. 
Question: he was a science teacher who wrote a paper and knew about life, but how was he chosen to go into space? 
Prediction: he returns to earth. Humans were able to survive, despite no sunlight. 
10: velocity is relative. It doesn’t make any sense unless you are comparing two objects. 
9: hah: Confetti, maybe.
8%: « All life needs is a chemical reaction that results in copies of the original catalyst. And you don’t need water for that! »
Prediction: he was chosen by humanity to go into « eternal » sleep, body being maintained by a robot, while the ship orbits a vacant earth, until humanity could be discovered, since humanity has been wiped out. Somehow the self-sustaining spaceship system has broken down centuries later and he’s all that is left. 
8%: However desperate things were, someone still had to deliver milk…if Mrs. McCreedy’s house got bombed in the night, well, you crossed it’s off the delivery list. 
7%: hah: pockets of nearly frozen noodles next to tongue-melting plasma. 
6%: …or maybe it’s just the calmness that comes after a crying jag. 
5%: pint of Guinness, yes.
5%: pendulums, mechanical clocks, period of time = length of pendulum, gravity 
4%: autoclave: strong, heated container used for chemical reactions and other processes
4%: what kind of weirdo am I?
3%: truth: No one cares about the right thing when they’re hungry. 
3%: hah: God job, it says, we get to not die for a while! 
2%/14: “I’m Caucasian, I’m, and I speak English. Let’s play the odds. “J-John?”

Ressentir des émotions en lisant un livre exige une suspension de la croyance et une rupture avec votre environnement physique. Vous devez vous détacher de l’endroit où vous êtes, de vos problèmes, de votre bébé basset qui gémit sur le canapé, et vous perdre dans l’histoire. Sinon, vous n’êtes qu’une personne assise là, tenant une pile de papier bien rangée.

Pour les biographes, les auteurs de mémoires et les écrivains de non-fiction, le processus de suspension de la croyance est moins difficile que pour les écrivains de fantasy et de science-fiction. Le lecteur est convaincu que le contenu du livre s’est réellement déroulé dans la réalité, ce qui donne du poids et du relief aux événements du récit.

Mais un auteur de science-fiction ou de fantaisie doit non seulement relever le défi inhérent à la suspension de la croyance du lecteur dans sa réalité, mais il doit aussi instiller une nouvelle réalité avec de nouvelles règles que le lecteur acceptera, auxquelles il adhérera spirituellement et qu’il suivra consciemment.

Comment Joanne Rowling a-t-elle pu vendre un demi-milliard de livres Harry Potter ? Oui, les personnages sont formidables et durables, les intrigues sont passionnantes, l’écriture est solide et les idées sont fascinantes… mais elle a également ancré le monde magique aussi fermement que possible dans une réalité similaire à la nôtre. Il y a un gouvernement magique, une banque magique, un système de transport magique. Lors d’une interview sur son processus d’écriture, Joanne a admis que l’un de ses principaux défis dans la construction du monde de Harry Potter n’était pas de créer les instances de la magie ou les pouvoirs fantastiques des sorciers et des magiciens, mais de créer les contraintes dans le monde magique qui contrôlent et donnent de la tension aux éléments/événements magiques.

Trop de livres de fantasy et de science-fiction ignorent l’importance des contraintes pour créer de la tension et du drame. Pourquoi les lecteurs souhaitent-ils des contraintes dans leurs histoires ? L’une des raisons est que nous sommes confrontés à des contraintes tous les jours de notre vie. Notre première contrainte ? Nous voulons faire des choses dans la vie alors que nous sommes en perpétuelle déchéance et que l’heure tourne. Les livres nous aident à apprendre ce que nous voulons, qui nous sommes, et ce qu’il faut faire dans ce bref moment d’existence. Les meilleurs livres ne nous font pas perdre notre temps précieux. Ni Joanne Rowling ni Andy Weir ne gaspillent le temps de leurs lecteurs. Andy est un maître dans l’utilisation des contraintes de la science-fiction et un leader dans le genre de la science-fiction dure.

Andy Weir fait pour la science-fiction ce que Joanne Rowling a fait pour la fantasy. Il ancre le récit autant que possible dans la réalité pour ajouter de la profondeur et du drame à l’histoire. Mais alors que Joanne a fondé son monde sur des constructions sociales similaires à une société humaine, Andy fonde son monde sur des concepts scientifiques et les lois naturelles de l’univers. On apprend des choses scientifiques et spatiales en lisant ses livres. On apprend comment les objets solides, lorsqu’on les analyse dans le “minuscule royaume”, ressemblent en fait davantage à des jungles épaisses qu’à des murs de briques.

Ce qui rend Le Martien, le premier livre d’Andy (qui a connu un grand succès et a été transformé en film à succès de Ridley Scott) si fascinant, c’est qu’il a fait des recherches scientifiques approfondies et qu’il a rendu son récit aussi précis que possible (à l’exception de la tempête de sable et de la force du vent sur Mars au début… Le vent sur Mars a une grande vitesse mais une faible force, Andy a dit qu’il avait délibérément sacrifié la précision à des fins dramatiques dans ce cas). Il voulait répondre à la question suivante : comment un humain peut-il survivre sur Mars ? Il a fait appel à la foule pour rédiger son livre sur son blog et a reçu les commentaires de ses fidèles lecteurs et des nerds qui lui demandaient si la science était correcte ou non. Il écrivait un chapitre, faisait des recherches pendant trois mois, puis en écrivait un autre. Le processus a fonctionné. Il a mis le livre sur Amazon (sur l’insistance de ses lecteurs) au prix le plus bas possible (.99, il n’avait pas besoin d’argent, il était ingénieur en logiciel depuis 20 ans) et peu après, la popularité du livre est montée en flèche (jeu de mots). (En l’espace d’une semaine, il a reçu un appel d’un agent littéraire pour un contrat d’édition et un autre appel lui annonçant que les droits cinématographiques avaient été vendus. Andy a dit que c’était une bonne semaine).

Mais il a également veillé à ce que l’intrigue de The Martian soit ancrée dans la réalité et limitée. J’ai vu une interview d’Andy dans laquelle il mentionnait qu’il ne voulait jamais que son personnage connaisse des ” moments de conflit foudroyants “. Un ” moment de conflit éclair “, c’est lorsqu’un personnage est en train de faire quelque chose et que BAM-OUCH-SIZZLE, une chose inattendue arrive et cause un problème. Cela n’est pas satisfaisant pour le lecteur. Andy a donc fait en sorte que chaque nouveau problème/défaut qui se présente à son personnage (le pauvre Mark Watney) naisse de la solution apportée par le personnage à un problème précédent. Grâce à cette technique, vous ressentez plus profondément la lutte du personnage.

Andy connaît bien le genre de la science-fiction (il a grandi en lisant les classiques de la science-fiction que sont Asimov, Heinlein et Clarke) et il est passionné par la NASA et les sciences spatiales. De même que Joanne Rowling a passé cinq ans à créer le monde de Harry Potter pour que le lecteur ait l’impression que le conteur connaît tout du monde magique, Andy Weir a passé sa vie à se renseigner sur la NASA et les voyages dans l’espace, de sorte que le lecteur ressent une expertise derrière le récit. Ce qui est amusant, c’est qu’Andy a peur de prendre l’avion.

Dans ses trois livres, Andy pose les questions suivantes : qu’est-ce qui est possible sur Mars, qu’est-ce qui est possible sur la Lune, et qu’est-ce qui est possible dans le domaine des voyages spatiaux + le saut dans les étoiles voisines, compte tenu des contraintes ?

Andy est extrêmement intelligent, mais jamais condescendant. Il réduit des idées scientifiques complexes à des déclarations simples, non pas pour montrer à quel point il est intelligent (je ne pense pas qu’il se soucie que vous le pensiez ou non), mais parce qu’il aime sincèrement partager ses découvertes. Il passe des mois à faire des recherches sur la science qui se cache derrière un détail spécifique qui pourrait faire l’objet d’une seule phrase dans le livre. Il est également drôle, faisant des blagues légères qui regardent souvent la mort ou le vide spatial en face.

Il y a des écrivains qui aiment écrire et qui ont des histoires qu’ils doivent exprimer et il y a des écrivains qui le font pour gagner leur vie même s’ils n’ont plus rien à dire (85% des livres publiés). Andy a été licencié par AOL il y a quinze ans et, grâce à une généreuse indemnité de licenciement, il a passé trois ans à essayer de trouver un agent littéraire pour publier un livre qu’il écrivait. Il n’a reçu que des refus. Il s’est dit : “Bon, j’ai essayé”, et il est redevenu un ingénieur logiciel qui écrivait du code. Mais il aimait écrire, alors il a continué à le faire, en publiant des histoires sur son blog. C’est alors qu’il a créé The Martian (l’un des trois livres qu’il écrivait simultanément à l’époque… un autre portait sur les sirènes et un autre sur une invasion extraterrestre. Dans une interview, il a déclaré que pendant cette période, il n’avait ” pas de vie “).

Après The Martian, Andy est devenu un ” écrivain à plein temps ” et a écrit Artemis, l’histoire d’une porteuse et d’une contrebandière insolente, Jasmine ” Jazz ” Bashara, qui vit sur la Lune et se retrouve mêlée à une conspiration pour le contrôle de la ville touristique. Le livre est divertissant, l’intrigue avance (les lecteurs de Goodreads l’ont élu meilleur roman de science-fiction de l’année), le point culminant est génial et la science est intéressante, mais les personnages secondaires d’Andy sont souvent identiques ou plats. Néanmoins, ce fut une lecture agréable, suffisamment agréable pour que j’aie hâte de lire la suite.

Andy trouve son rythme de croisière dans Project Hail Mary. Il se concentre sur son personnage principal, Ryland Grace, professeur de sciences au lycée, et consacre la majeure partie du récit à son parcours. L’histoire s’ouvre sur le réveil de Grace dans un vaisseau spatial avec deux cadavres. Grace a perdu la mémoire, mais celle-ci commence à lui revenir par flashs. Il réalise qu’il est en mission pour sauver l’humanité…

J’ai pleuré en lisant ce livre, j’ai ri. Vers la fin, je marchais sur le trottoir, mon kindle tremblant dans mes mains, et je croisais des Parisiens mécontents portant des foulards colorés. Il y a des éléments fantastiques de science-fiction dans ce livre, mais ils n’ont jamais été trop forts pour me faire sortir du récit. Andy aborde des problèmes tels que “les humains auraient besoin d’une quantité ENORME de carburant pour voyager vers d’autres étoiles” et utilise des éléments qu’il a déjà raisonnablement introduits dans le récit pour les résoudre. Et parce qu’il est si bien informé sur la science-fiction (et “bien regardé Star Trek”), je n’ai jamais eu l’impression qu’il utilisait des tropes ou des clichés usés de la science-fiction lorsqu’il introduisait des choses fantastiques de la science-fiction. Elles m’ont toujours semblé fraîches (mais peut-être ne suis-je pas assez cultivé dans le domaine de la science-fiction). Il y a aussi de la bonté dans ce livre, et un acharnement à surmonter les obstacles. Et s’il y a un rappel dont nous avons tous besoin en ce moment, à la fin de cette invasion de virus, c’est de rester bon tout en surmontant nos défis. Sur une autre note, voici la photo d’un bébé basset pleurnichard (défilement vers le haut). Bonne rotation unique de la Terre.

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