It begins with the anomaly, an arc of particles stretching from the Sun to Venus emitting a precise infrared frequency, an oddity to be observed and analysed but of interest only to specialists such as particle physicists; it is only when the Sun begins to dim alarmingly that it is realised that the Petrova Line, named the after the researcher who first described it, is the source of the drain inconceivable in traditional astronomy.
Unless the cause can be understood and ameliorated, it is predicted that fifty percent of the world’s population will be dead within two decades, frozen or starved as the ecosystem crashes; time can be bought by extreme measures, shattering the Antarctic to release frozen methane, a strong greenhouse gas to capture the dwindling heat, but there will be consequences, rising sea levels and disruption to weather systems, and at most it is only a temporary measure.
Following The Martian and Artemis, the third novel from Andy Weir mirrors their template with science the guiding principle in a crisis: make the observations, plot the data, and with calculations and deductions from first principles get the answer, if not the solution, to the issues at hand, this time rather larger than a single astronaut with the future of life on Earth dependent on the success of Project Hail Mary.
Like Mark Watney, Doctor Ryland Grace is alone, but where Watney was unintentionally left behind when his colleagues hastily departed Mars, Grace’s two colleagues died in transit, the only survivor on board the Hail Mary who grieves for two people he knows were friends but for whom he has no accessible memories, a side effect of the prolonged coma which should have allowed all three of them to travel to the apparent source of the stellar infection, the Tau Ceti system.
Weir’s most ambitious novel in terms of the scope and the problem to be addressed, like the International Machine Consortium of Carl Sagan’s Contact, Project Hail Mary is globally funded, a collaboration of expertise from all fields under the guiding vision of Eva Stratt; while Grace is as fabulously capable in science and improvisation as Watney, as a junior high school teacher rather than an astronaut he is less accomplished, an oversight more than compensated for by the indefatigable overachiever to whom he answers.
Grace’s slowly recovering amnesia the key which unlocks the puzzles of the novel, allowing the twin narratives of his induction into Project Hail Mary and his investigations around Tau Ceti to run in parallel, a theoretician called on to apply his wide knowledge in a pressing and unpredictable practical situation. Inevitably, told through the eyes of a teacher everything becomes a lesson but Weir ensures that learning is always fun and exciting, each disaster and discovery dovetailing seamlessly as the mission hurtles forward, maintaining velocity even as resources dwindle and hope flutters in the solar wind.