Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
We've gone from "Literature and the Arts" to "eReaders and the Memes"...what does that tell you about the last decade?

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Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

by Neo » 30 Jun 2022, 19:56

I did it y'all! I read and finished a book. But I'm not gonna talk about the contents of the book in this post, I'm gonna talk about the structure and why I was actually able to finish it.

It's Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. He's the same guy that did "The Martian" book the movie was based on.

I bought the book when it came out May 4th, 2021, but I went into it blind. I didn't read any synopsis, or reviews. I had no clue what the plot was, and I wanted it that way so I could experience it unbiased. This was a mistake I had made reading reviews for his 2nd book Artemis, which turned me off of it immediately.

Now what I'm going to write below is not going to give any significant plot details away, and hopefully not even any insignificant plot details.

I got started reading it, and the first chapter took me 1 year to complete. That is to say: without any context of the subject matter, the first chapter was so boring, as it lacked any relevant details or information about the plot, I started losing interest. The main character spends probably the entire chapter describing what is around them in a single room because neither you, nor the character have any memory of who/where/why they are. It's a hell of a way to introduce a story, but in retrospect it was probably a good way to keep introductions and venue small. (I don't read a lot of books, so what do I know?)

This summer, I picked it back up to start reading again and got through the rest of the chapter, and into Chapter 2, and that is when the shortest of flashbacks start happening. Suddenly the tiniest clue about who the character is, but still not much about the overall plot arc or why they are there. It really started to pick up for me during the next couple chapters as more flashbacks start happening, the main character regains more memories, and this allows them to progress beyond the initial room.

And then suddenly during one of the flashbacks, the plot gets a bass drop, and I was hooked.

The storyline progresses in a back-and-forth fashion where the A-plot that you open with picks up from "today" relative to the timeline, and the B-plot (the flashbacks) pick up from just enough in the past to start being relevant to why the A-plot even exists. Then they progress evenly until the end of the B-plot explains how the A-plot originated. And then afterward A-plot moves on because the flashbacks aren't needed anymore.

I found this to be an effective way of telling the backstory without front-loading it or jumping around in the past to things that were "relevant" but "out of sequence" like some TV shows started doing in the mid-2000s. I was able to keep track of the storyline, understand when there was a flashback (because of the starkly different settings or conversational topics), and there were numerous breaks within the chapters as (stopping points, for me) time jumps (or flashback/forwards) for the story.

I found equally effective the number and types of characters involved. There are about a dozen "named" characters, but only 3 of them are important references throughout the book across both plot lines. For me this was great. I have a hard time making up faces/persons for characters in books, and so if I don't have a movie/visual to work from, the fewer the better. In this case, I could hold their names in short-term memory, give them a faceless body, and just a vague existence in my mind, and then never have to recall them again, because they didn't matter.

It was during this book that I also bought a basic Kindle with an eInk display to replace my slow-ass Kindle Fire 7. (I was able to get it for ~$50 on sale). This helped as well - it made the reading experience the same whether it was day or night, so resuming it when I would go to bed would be visually the same as reading during the day...but more than that I didn't have to deal with the super bright screen, color ads, and slow OS in the Fire 7. A side note, it also just feels better with a matte screen instead of a glass plate.

So, there we have it. This is less of a book review (because I don't want to give away any of the plot points), and more of a review about the experience of reading the book that allowed me to finish it.
"Because I choose to."

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