The Best Book of the Year!

Yes. I know. How can I honestly say “best book of the year” when the year isn’t even half over yet? Furthermore, of course, I can judge only the books that I’ve read.

So, let me rephrase. Of the 17 books that I’ve read so far in 2023, Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary is, IMHO, unquestionably the best. (Murder Your Employer is #2, if you care.) This science fiction novel is gripping, suspenseful, and geeky without ever being tedious. Weir writes in a transparent Asimovian style, so the writing never gets in the way. He succeeds in making aliens seem real without being any the less alien.

“What type of science fiction is this book?” you ask. “What’s its sub-genre?”

Well, it’s basically a first-contact novel—but with a veneer of being a disaster novel, or more precisely an averting-a-disaster novel. The specific premise was surely inspired by the famous Twilight Zone episode, The Midnight Sun. There are several Easter eggs, a few of which I’m sure went over my head, but I and others of my age can’t help being struck by this sentence:

He led me through a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Weir succeeds with a technique that usually doesn’t work for me as a reader: switching back and forth between two time periods. In this case you have the “now” in our hero’s real-time mind, and the “before” that he slowly remembers. Usually this sort of technique just confuses me, even though it can be cleared up with a date-and-time stamp at the beginning of each section. Much more natural, however, is Weir’s technique, which never leaves the reader in doubt. His writing is so clear that you immediately just know which “world” you are in without having to stop and think about it.

But there was plenty that I did have to stop and think about—not because it was unclear but because it was something worth thinking about! Although the protagonist is a middle-school science teacher (yay!), his problems involve science, engineering, linguistics, technology, problem-solving in general, and humanity as a whole. What a ride! I heartily thank my friend and colleague Leah Gordon for recommending this book to me.

About 80% of the way through the novel I paused to wonder what the ending would be like. Clearly civilization and life itself on Earth could be destroyed, or the hero could die, or there could be some over-sentimental ending in which neither of those fates happens…and then there’s the actual ending. Read it to find out!

Categories: Books