Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir
Officially a 2021 book, I finished this over New Year’s weekend. It was my 53rd book of 2021, just getting me over book-a-week pace for those 12 months.

This treads similar territory to Weir’s excellent The Martian, again focused on a man who is stuck in space alone. This time, though, the stakes are much higher.

Ryland Grace is a former teacher who finds himself alone on a spacecraft sent to another solar system in an attempt to save Earth. Or at least our sun, which is under attack from a newly discovered, alien form of life that is eating away its energy. When he reaches his destination – a “nearby” star that seems immune to these attacks – his two crew mates have failed to wake from their induced comas and he is confronted with another alien life force on a similar mission.

Weir’s story is, most of all, charming. The way he handles Grace’s interaction with the alien he encounters is wonderful. There are plenty of predictable elements in the story, but it is a work of fiction about the near-future and technologies that don’t exist at the moment; you can’t take it super seriously or think this is high literature. It is a fun, entertaining, and even heart-warming read.

How Beautiful We Were – Imbolo Mbue
Glad I read this before it gets banned/burned. It is the story of how a small, fictional, African village attempted to fight back against the American oil company that was polluting its environment as well as their corrupt government that failed to hold the oil company accountable. Pretty soon someone is going to decide this book is offense, or undermines our white, American way of life, and get it thrown out of public libraries.

An Ordinary Spy – Joseph Weisberg
I did not know until recently that this co-creator of The Americans had released a novel before he helped to create that show. It is presented as a heavily redacted memoir of a former CIA officer (Weisberg briefly served in the CIA) who runs into issues in his foreign posting and then must try to uncover the truth of his assignment with the help of another semi-disgraced, former officer. It was kind of frustrating to read because long sections are blacked out, as if the CIA review board had decided those passages weren’t fit for pubic consumption. It got annoying after a hundred pages or so. Which detracted from a decent, but not great, story.

Winter – Karl Ove Knausgaard
One day I’ll go back and continue KOK’s My Struggle series. I’m just never in the right frame of mind when I think of it. Instead I tackled this, one of his seasonal essay collections. Some of them are interesting. Some are not.

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland
Another book by a former CIA officer about a CIA officer. In this case a counter intelligence officer who learns that her husband is a Russian sleeper agent. She makes a decision that protects her family, but in turn, opens a cascading series of new threats.

There was a lot of potential in this story. The big problem, though, is that the main character wasn’t super sympathetic. Her choice to protect her husband/family led her to compromising an important CIA program. While I can understand wanting to keep your family safe, by making that decision I lost interest in her finding a happy solution to her dilemma.

Cleveland does try to amp things up in the closing pages. It has the obligatory twists and turns, some of which you could see coming long before, another of which genuinely surprised me. It wasn’t a waste of time, but it also isn’t one that I’m going to think about much in the future.