Writer Andy Weir clearly has a type. After stranding a guy all alone on Mars in his novel The Martian, Weir has now stranded a different guy on a spaceship in his new novel Project Hail Mary (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). Though as he explains in this email interview, the new guy isn’t entirely alone on that ship.
Photo Credit: Aubrie Pick
To begin, what is Project Hail Mary about, and when and where is it set?
An astronaut wakes up aboard a ship with two dead crewmates. He has total amnesia but over time comes to learn the fate of the world relies on this mission. And he’s not sure what he has to do.
Where did you get the idea for Project Hail Mary, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
Honestly, it was a collection of story ideas that I had for other books. Several of them came from my abandoned novel Zhek, while others were concepts for future books I had in mind. I didn’t even imagine they would go together, but then each one clicked into place and they really worked together well.
As you said, Project Hail Mary has a guy all alone on a space ship. In your first novel, The Martian, a guy gets stranded alone on Mars. What is it about having someone be all alone that you find so interesting to write about? Do you have abandonment issues? Do you need a hug? Because it’s illegal for people to hug right now.
I could use a hug, yeah.
Isolating a scientist and throwing life-threatening problems at him is a good way to have an interesting plot. You get to see problem-solving and resourcefulness. It’s entertaining.
Serious about that hug.
Given that you announced this novel last year, I assume you largely wrote it before the pandemic kicked in and we were all stuck at home. But did you go back and change anything in the story because of the Covid-19 lockdown?
Yes, I completed the novel before the pandemic was in full force. I didn’t change anything as a result of the disease. The novel was done and everyone was happy with it.
Now, it sounds like Project Hail Mary is a sci-fi mystery story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I think that’s a good description. Initially, there are many mysteries, as our protagonist doesn’t even know his own name. But as those resolve, there is an underlying science mystery that has to be solved or everyone on Earth will die.
Your previous novels, The Martian and Artemis, both had moments of situational comedy. Does Project Hail Maryas well?
Yes, there’s plenty of comedy. It’s just how I write. I’ve found that comedy is a great way to move things along. The reader will forgive anything as long as it’s funny.
Both of those novels were also told from the first-person perspective. Does Project Hail Mary do that as well?
Yes, Project Hail Mary is told in first-person.
Speaking of your earlier novels, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on this story but not on anything else you’ve written?
I don’t think there’s anything that affected just this one story. Maybe through counterexample. There are a lot of stories out there that feature first contact, and I’ve always been annoyed in one way or another. The aliens just happen to breathe the same air and live in the same environment as us, etc. I wanted to be more realistic and grounded than that.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games??
Not really. It mainly came from lots of speculation by me on how to do an interstellar trip.
Your previous novels were both stand-alone stories. Is Project Hail Mary one as well?
I don’t set out to write stand-alone novels, but I don’t put any effort into making them a series, either. I want to make each book as good as it can be. Project Hail Mary could have sequels, and I’ve even put some thought into what they might be like. But for now I don’t have anything concrete in mind.
It has already been announced that there’s a Project Hail Mary movie in the works, with Ryan Gosling [Blade Runner 2049] as Ryland Grace, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller [The LEGO Movie] directing. When you heard they were directing it, how much did you hope they were going to do it with LEGO?
Ha ha, not at all. But I am thrilled that they’re directing. And especially thrilled that I get to work with my good friend Aditya Sood again. He works with Lord and Miller now, but back in the day he worked with Simon Kinberg and was the producer of The Martian. That project went well.
So where do things stand on this adaptation?
It’s very early days, yet. We don’t have a screenplay yet, and Ryan is the only person cast so far. But MGM certainly seems passionate about the project. You never know with Hollywood but fingers crossed.
You’ve also said in the previous interview we did about Artemis [which you can read here] that there was going to be a movie based on that book as well. Where do things stand with that?
Also being directed by Lord and Miller, Artemis is further along than Project Hail Mary. We have a screenplay and the art design folks are working on concepts for what sets might look like.
Finally, if someone enjoys Project Hail Mary, and they haven’t read The Martian and Artemis, which would you suggest they read next and why that one and not the other one?
The Martian, I guess. It’s the more popular of the two.