Fast fiction may sound like a pejorative, but I don’t mean it that way. Sometimes, particularly after deeper literary fiction I’m happy to jettison character development and lyrical prose for books that go down like any of my favorite sugary snacks—easily, mindlessly, and with no nutritional value. Empty calories, but yummy, and just how much kale should any one person have to eat?
Today I have two very different novels, but both count as fast fiction and both will make great warm weather reading.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was a massive success, drawing even non-scfi readers into the travails of an astronaut left behind on Mars. Now, he’s back with Project Hail Mary and it seems it’s a formula he’s going to stick with. Ryland Grace is a junior high school science teacher who finds an obscure paper he wrote is of intense interest to the scientific community when an unknown organism begins leaching energy from the sun. Within days, he’s part of a global team trying to find a solution to save mankind from extinction.
The pace of Project Hail Mary keeps it from being a thriller, even when the outcome is in doubt. Even more so than The Martian, it is laden with pages of scientific terminology and concepts. Grace himself feels familiar with his aw-shucks personality and self-deprecating humor. The plot progresses through recognizable stages of advance and setback, the characters are plucky and endearing (even the unlikable ones). It all adds up to what feels like a space sequel to The Martian, which isn’t a bad thing. Diehard science fiction fans can revel in the details while the rest of us, with judiciously skimming the oodles of technospeak, can enjoy a clever plot and the human aspects of the story.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Published by Celadon Books
Publication date: May 11, 2021
I was predisposed against The Plot because it sounded far too familiar to me. It’s about a one-hit wonder author who has had no follow-up success. He’s teaching creative writing at a minor college when he meets a student with a story idea he’s never encountered. When he hears the student has died and can find no evidence the book was ever completed he takes the idea and writes a massively successful novel from it. This premise annoyed me, ala been-there-read-that (Unraveling Oliver, A Ladder to the Sky). Still, I was convinced to give it a try and while those are the novel’s bones, they knit together to form a different animal than expected. Many years after the novel is published Jake starts getting anonymous emails threatening to expose him. He must retrace his steps back to the beginning to save his newfound career.
While The Plot maintains a credible game of cat and mouse it doesn’t hold any great surprises. I’m not someone who delights in figuring out mysteries early on, but in this case, it was harder to ignore the clues. That aside, this is page-turning, vacation reading.
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*I received a free copy of these books from Ballantine Books and Celadon Books in exchange for an honest review.*