Tag Archives: Hope

The Last-Chance Mission: A Review of Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover. Image on cover shows an astronaut floating through space while tethered to their ship. There is a large sun or planet in the background. Title: Project Hail Mary

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length:476 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

Review:

Content warning: Death and serious bodily injuries. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Failure isn’t an option here if humanity is to survive.

There were multiple sections of this book that went into great detail about the physics and math behind the experiments Ryland ran as he attempted to solve the scientific mystery that was threatening to drive humanity to extinction. This was most definitely a work of hard science fiction. I suspect that people who have university-level degrees in math, science, or technology will get the most out of those passages, but I did understand what the main character was saying. Keep pushing through those passages if you struggle with them. They’re important for the plot, but the narrator will often explain them again in other ways later on if you need a refresher.

I loved the foreshadowing. Yes, it was a little more heavy handed than what I’d typically expect to find in this genre, but given the complex and technical nature of most of the problems Ryland needed to solve I think that was the best choice for most people who will be reading this.

The hopeful nature of the storyline was delightful, so don’t be fooled by the urgent and sad vibe of the first couple of scenes. There were so many wonderful plot twists after that point, some of which I didn’t see coming and found quite relieving once they did arrive. As much as I want to go into vivid detail here, I keep my reviews spoiler-free and want you all to discover these moments for yourselves.

Ryland was a well-developed character whose wry sense of humour often made me chuckle. I enjoyed seeing how quickly and (usually) calmly he came up with new ideas when he was in a crisis and his previous solutions didn’t pan out. He honestly reminded me a bit of Mark Watney from Weir’s earlier book, The Martian. While these characters lived in different universes, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting them. Some of Ryland’s strengths were things that Mark probably would have found difficult, so that was an extra layer of amusement for anyone who is already familiar with this author and his previous works.

Project Hail Mary was an amazing adventure that I heartily recommend to anyone who loves hard science fiction.

Star Trek as Comfort Food

This post was inspired by my friend Megan Cutler’s series on must-watch Star Trek: The Original Series episodes.

Star Trek Enterprise D Transporter. Photo credit- Konrad Summers
Star Trek Enterprise D Transporter. Photo credit- Konrad Summers

These past few weeks I’ve been rewatching old Star Trek episodes from many different eras and series even though I have plenty of other shows that I haven’t seen for the first time yet.

I don’t know about you, but I crave certainty in uncertain times.

Star Trek has filled many niches over the years. Sometimes its stories are a reflection of controversial issues we deal with in the real world that don’t have simple solutions.

Other episodes might humorous, poignant, hopeful, silly, or any combination of these and many other themes.

There have been Star Trek characters and episodes whom I loved immediately, slowly grew to have a deep appreciation for once I got to know them better, or, in a few rare cases, honestly never connected with much at all. (Not everything appeals to everyone!)

Star Trek itself is comfort food for me, and it’s been this way since my first experiences with it through reruns of The Next Generation. No matter which episode or series you pick, there are some things that almost always remain the same in this franchise.

Hope

There are many excellent science fiction books, stories, and TV shows out there that do not necessarily hold a hopeful perspective of human nature or the future. This isn’t one of them.

While Star Trek writers have occasionally strayed from this theme in the more modern versions of it, this franchise in general takes a hopeful stance on what we are capable of and what our future might hold.

Perfection doesn’t exist in this or any other universe, but human society has changed for the better in so many different ways between our era and theirs.

Every time I see characters greet living beings from other planets, order a meal from a replicator, or be treated for an illness or injury that would be fatal in the twenty-first century, I feel another pulse of hope that we’ll someday create versions of these futuristic wonders for ourselves in the real world.

Certainty

Photo of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock from the television series Star Trek on May 2, 1967.Yes, there are plenty of obstacles along the way in just about any Star Trek story arc, and they can be difficult to resolve depending on the series and the specific conflict in question.

Sometimes these conflicts are so complex they take up multiple episodes or seasons (see also: Deep Space Nine), but viewers always know there is a solution on the way eventually if they stick with it to see what the characters do next.

That certainty is a breath of fresh air now more than ever.

Call me an idealist, but I believe there’s something to be said for losing yourself in a storyline that will be resolved satisfactorily at some point.

Humour

By far the biggest reason to think of Star Trek as comfort food is all of the humour tucked away into it. No matter which series we’re talking about, there are reasons to smile when watching all of them. Yes, even Picard and Discovery if you look closely enough!

You may have noticed that I avoided mentioning specific Star Trek episodes in this post until now. That was done on purpose in order so that I could talk about the over-arching themes of this universe. Discussing a particular episode was less important than knowing there are many options to choose from when you’re a Star Trek fan who wants something warm and reassuring to watch after a long day.

With that being said, I’ll now provide a short list of my favourite humorous Star Trek episodes and provide one reason each for watching them. If you’re also a fan of this franchise, feel free to add your own suggestions below.

Episode: The Trouble with Tribbles

Series: The Original Series

Why You Should Watch It: Not only was it the funniest TOS episode in my opinion, it’s also aged the best since first airing. The idea of Kirk being outsmarted, if only temporarily, by what are essentially extremely fertile hamster-like creatures called Tribbles makes this a must watch for anyone who hasn’t seen yet.

The benefits of owning a tribble.

 

Episode: Trials And Tribble-Ations

Series: Deep Space Nine

Why You Should Watch It: The only thing better than tribbles is revisiting them vis a vie time travel!

Trying to blend in while time traveling.

 

Episode: Qpid

Series: The Next Generation

Why You Should Watch It: After being transported to a Robin Hood storyline, Worf dryly exclaimed, “I am not a merry man.” Watch the expression on his face below. It’s comedy gold.

Worf is not a merry man.

 

Episode: Tinker, Tenor, Doctor Spy

Series: Voyager

Why You Should Watch It: The doctor singing for Tuvok is priceless regardless of how well you do or do not already know these two characters.

The doctor sings for Tuvok

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley has been on my mind recently. When I was a kid, I only ever read the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what happened to her in Windy Poplars and beyond, so her childhood to teen years made the biggest impression on me.

She was an imaginative girl who often flipped between bubbly enthusiasm and being in the “depths of despair” depending on what sort of trouble she might have accidentally found herself in.

stylized black and white drawing of woman in white dress touching butterflies the size of large owls. the blue, green, orange, and pink butterflies are the only splashes of colour in this scene.
This isn’t Anne, but I think she would have found scope for imagination in this sketch.

I’m fortunate to live in a walkable neighbourhood, so I can get nearly anything I need here without stepping onto the subway. This has been wonderful during the pandemic as I can walk by a nearby shop and see how busy it is before deciding whether I should buy groceries and other necessary supplies now or wait a day or two when there are fewer people there. photo of man walking down steps. Upper half of photo shows him walking upside down and up a pair of steps. image might be mirrored or something?

It also means that the days bleed into each other. I’m being so conscientious about where I go that I tend to see the same trees, shops, strangers, and even pigeons that I did last week, last month, and approximately a million years ago in March when the first wave of this pandemic hit Toronto.

(No, I’m not joking about the pigeons there. We have a flock of them that has chosen a specific area as their home and always returns to it after foraging elsewhere. I affectionally refer to them as our “pet” birds).

I used to find scope for imagination in things that I only saw and heard occasionally like attending specific street festival or planning an afternoon trip to a park in a different part of the city that requires one to ride the subway or take a streetcar with a multitude of strangers.

Now the only differences are changes in the weather and maybe the occasional new coat or pair of shoes a neighbour might want to show off if we pass each other on the street.

Like most of you, I’d imagine, my world is small, yet there is still scope for imagination here. The outside world might remain more or less the same from one day to the next, but that doesn’t mean your mind must do the same.

Even the smallest changes in a community can be attention grabbing now. The first autumn leaves that peeked out from a sea of green were prettier than they’ve been in years.

Bananas that are submerged in a bright yellow landscape.There are books to read and movies to watch that will take you anywhere you want to go, including places that weren’t accessible to mere mortals at all except through our imaginations!

Art museums themselves might be closed or scratched off many of our visiting lists, but art itself remains.

This is our new normal.

Someday future generations will ask what this time period was like.

I’m taking notes of my experiences. Some of them end up as blog posts here, while others have been scribbled down into a private journal I may pass down to my nephews someday.

Pretending to be a time traveller is another way to find scope for imagination. What is perfectly ordinary to us may be fresh and interesting to someone a century from now.

How would you explain the idiosyncrasies, irritations, and immeasurable moments of our era to them?

That one question in and of itself makes my mind tingle with possibilities.

Where have you all found scope for imagination recently?

Hopeful Science Fiction: Overlay

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the eleventh and final story from this anthology that I’ll cover here.

Overlay

silhouette of a group of people rescuing someone who fell down the side of a mountainIn Elizabeth Bonesteel’s Overlay, two parents undertook a dangerous mission to save their captured son.

I know you all probably want more details than that, but this was one of those tales that’s so fast-paced and filled with twists that I have to mind what I say about it in order to avoid spoiler territory.

Setting the opening scene in sewer drains of all places was a good choice. It showed off Ray and Cass’ personalities nicely, especially when it came to just how far they’d go to rescue their kid.

I did have trouble putting all of the pieces of this story together due to how non-linearly they were arranged. The characters jumped from past to present to future and back again. While this is a storytelling device I’ve enjoyed in the past, I found it confusing for these particular characters because of how wildly different the various periods of their lives were from one another.

There was also something included in the story that I can’t mention specifically that made it even more confusing due to how little time was spent explaining what it was supposed to mean and how many different interpretations of it I came up with.

I’ll refrain from going into detail about it, but anyone who reads the first few paragraphs will spot it immediately. It was quite creative, but I sure did wish it had been explained more thoroughly. All of the interpretations I came up with were fascinating, and I’m sure there were other ways to understand it that other readers could have added as well.

All of these issues together made this story feel rough around the edges to me. I loved the initial concept of it and thought the opening scene couldn’t have been written better. It had such an urgent tone that I had to remind myself to keep breathing as I waited to find out if Ray and Cass would be able to save their son.

There were other moments like this later on in the plot. When they happened, they reminded me why I was so drawn to it to begin with. I only wish that the scenes between them had been better able to tie them all together in ways that pushed the storyline forward and kept up the high energy of the beginning. This tale had a lot of promise and I really wanted to like it more than I did.

With that being said, it definitely still does belong in the Hopeful Science Fiction sub-genre. The ending was satisfying and I’m glad I stuck around to find out what happened to everyone before, during, and after the daring rescue attempt.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the tenth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Machine of Loving Grace

Content warning: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and sexism. I will be discussing these things in my review.

A close-up photo of a circuit board. Katherine Cross’ Machine of Loving Grace showed what happened when an AI designed to moderate video games took on a life of its own.

The content warning for this short story might make some potential readers pause. These are some pretty heavy topics, and they’re things that women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBT+ community can often be inundated with online.

With that being said, I encourage everyone who has the emotional bandwidth for it to dive into this tale. Ami, the AI mentioned earlier, was created to permanently end this abusive behaviour in video games. Imagine being able to play any video game you wish without ever needing to worry about other players mistreating you in these ways!

That idea was so remarkable that I had to find out how Ami’s reaction to these interactions evolved over time. She was programmed to be highly empathetic, so reading abusive chat logs was as disturbing for her as it would be for you or I to read them.

The cool thing about the world building in general was how realistic it felt. While we don’t yet live in a world where AI is capable of moderating video games so precisely, this sure seemed like something that we could all live to see happen. The explanations of how she was created and why Phoebe, the programmer in charge of her, was so surprised by Ami’s actions were well done.

So, too, were the reactions of the higher-ups at Rhombus, the company that employed Phoebe, when they realized how Ami was reacting to a problem that has been around since the Internet was in its infancy.

There are so many things I want to say about later plot twists in relation to the differences between how they reacted to online harassment and what Ami thought should be done about it. This truly is something that all of you should experience for yourselves, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone told you to be patient or to not overreact to something that you knew was wrong and never should have been permitted.

Sometimes hope thrives in places you might be least likely to expect it, and that’s beautiful.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Move the World

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Last winter I discovered the… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Burn

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year, I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: St. Juju

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. A few months ago, I… Read More