A surprisingly funny horror novel and two thrilling adventures among the stars are ready to sweep you away in this month’s sci-fi & fantasy column.
★ Project Hail Mary
No author is better than Andy Weir at taking a concept that could be boring on paper (molecular biology) and turning it into a hilarious, thrilling, engrossing piece of accessible hard sci-fi. Thankfully, Project Hail Mary is another intense space puzzle for science nerds and mainstream thrill-seekers alike. Ryland Grace wakes up on a small spaceship with amnesia, unsure of why he’s there, what he’s meant to do or even what his name is. He begins to recall a mission sparked by alien life near the sun, a mission that may have had existential importance for the human race. Ryland must survive long enough to find a way to save the world using only his mind and the resources aboard the spaceship. Weir’s inquisitive and hilarious, optimistic yet deadpan voice carries this book from the very first page. Ryland is the perfect vessel for a cosmic mystery that plays out with the same joyous attention to detail—and poignant philosophical questions about the nature of self-discovery and human ingenuity—found in Weir’s beloved debut, The Martian. It’s just so gosh-darn hopeful; one can’t help but smile the whole way through.
The Whispering Dead
Need a horror tale sure to raise a few goosebumps? Darcy Coates will have you gripping the covers with the immediately entertaining The Whispering Dead. Keira awakens in a dreary forest without her memory, hunted by unknown men and desperate for answers. After taking refuge in a house near a cemetery, she discovers that she can hear the whispers of the dead coming from among the gravestones. Now she’s on a mission to find out who she is, why she’s being followed and how she can bring peace to the ghosts that haunt the town of Blighty. In one of the strongest starts to any book I’ve read this year, The Whispering Dead instantly pulls the reader into the horrors Keira encounters. That said, Coates also includes many lighter moments and hilarious quips, so there’s plenty to enjoy here beyond the spooks and scares. Some questions about Keira’s past are left unanswered as this is the first book in a planned series, and I suspect anyone who reads it will be itching for the sequel.
★ The Last Watch
J.S. Dewes’ The Last Watch is a high-energy thrill ride at the edge of space featuring a crew of miscreants racing against time aboard an ancient spaceship. A great concept with an even better execution, this is a sci-fi space opera for readers looking to dial up the excitement. The Argus, an ancient spacecraft parked at the rim of a vast, empty space anomaly known only as the Divide, serves as the last protection for humanity against the great unknown. The crew, made up of bottom-of-the-barrel military has-beens, would be content to serve out their time in relative peace. But when the Divide starts expanding, swallowing up the known galaxy, the crew of the Argus must find a way to stop it before the universe is completely engulfed. A strong, straightforward concept anchors a fun cast of characters that always seems to have a quip or a retort ready to go. I had a great time from cover to cover, and here’s some good news for anyone else who enjoys it: This is the first in a planned series, so get ready to return to the Divide in the near future. With its “Battlestar Galactica” meets “Game of Thrones” tone, The Last Watch is a delight.