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Check out an exclusive excerpt from Andy Weir’s latest sci-fi novel, ‘Project Hail Mary’

“The Martian” author Andy Weir is sticking another hero in space for an epic survival tale – and this new guy is going a lot farther than the red planet.

Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon in the Oscar-nominated “Martian” movie adaptation, had to figure out how to live on an alien planet when he gets stuck on Mars. Ryland Grace, the protagonist of Weir’s new novel “Project Hail Mary” (Ballantine Books, out Tuesday), has to figure out how to save all mankind after a trip to a totally different solar system – just as soon as he figures out how he got there in the first place.

“Everyone loves survival stories, regardless of the setting,” Weir tells USA TODAY, which debuts the first excerpt from “Project Hail Mary.” “Whether it be Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island, Mark Watney stranded on Mars, or real-life Chilean miners trapped a mile underground, we all root for people to overcome the obstacles nature throws in their path.”

The cover of Andy Weir's "Project Hail Mary." (Photo: BALLANTINE)

The book runs on two tracks: There’s the interstellar story line in which Ryland uses science and finds an unexpected friend to help him work out the best way to help humanity, and also a backstory that reveals how he went from schoolteacher to unwitting astronaut as well as the biological threat coming from our sun that threatens to bring a devastating new ice age to Earth.

“That was a hard decision for me, because I really don’t like flashbacks,” Weir says. “They generally feel like your mom calling you in to clean your room when you’re out playing with your friends. But I did some soul-searching and realized what I really didn’t like about flashbacks is that they interrupt the interesting stuff going on so you can learn boring stuff about a character’s backstory.

“I decided my flashbacks would be integral to the unfolding mysteries in progress. That way the reader is invested in them as well.”

USA TODAY has an exclusive excerpt from the first chapter of “Project Hail Mary,” in which Ryland, suffering from amnesia and having no idea where he is, is introduced to the reader as he’s also being reintroduced to himself.

“I wanted the amnesia plot for storytelling purposes – to have flashes of insight into the past, allowing me to skip the boring parts of the early timeframe,” Weir says. “But once I was in that mode, I took advantage of it to have Ryland’s personal history unfold the same way.”

Ryan Gosling, who last appeared on screen in "First Man," is head back into space after signing on to the movie adaptation of Andy Weir's "Project Hail Mary." (Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE, AFP/Getty Images)

Ryland is also surprised to find himself ridiculously in shape – a positive for the planned movie adaptation directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and starring Ryan Gosling, a guy known for usually being ripped on screen. “He’s an amazing actor and will be perfect for the role,” Weir says.

Read below (or listen) to an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir:

I wake up. How long was I out? It must have been a while because I feel rested. I open my eyes without any effort. That’s progress.

I try to move my fingers. They wiggle as instructed. All right. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Hand movement detected,” says the computer. “Remain still.”

“What? Why—”

The robot arms come for me. They move fast. Before I know it, they’ve removed most of the tubes from my body. I didn’t feel a thing. Though my skin is kind of numb anyway.

Only three tubes remain: an IV in my arm, a tube up my butt, and a catheter. Those latter two are kind of the signature items I wanted removed, but okay.

I raise my right arm and let it fall back to the bed. I do the same for my left. They feel heavy as heck. I repeat the process a few times. My arms are muscular. That doesn’t make sense. I assume I’ve had some massive medical problem and been in this bed for a while. Otherwise, why would they have me hooked up to all the stuff? Shouldn’t there be muscle atrophy?

And shouldn’t there be doctors? Or maybe the sounds of a hospital? And what’s with this bed? It’s not a rectangle, it’s an oval and I think it’s mounted to the wall instead of the floor.

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“Take . . .” I trail off. Still kind of tired. “Take the tubes out. . . .”

The computer doesn’t respond.

I do a few more arm lifts. I wiggle my toes. I’m definitely getting better.

I tilt my ankles back and forth. They’re working. I raise my knees up. My legs are well toned too. Not bodybuilder thick, but still too healthy for someone on the verge of death. I’m not sure how thick they should be, though.

"The Martian" author Andy Weir has done another story of space survival with "Project Hail Mary." (Photo: AUBRIE PICK)

I press my palms to the bed and push. My torso rises. I’m actually getting up! It takes all my strength but I soldier on. The bed rocks gently as I move. It’s not a normal bed, that’s for sure. As I raise my head higher up, I see the head and foot of the elliptical bed are attached to strong-looking wall mounts. It’s kind of a rigid hammock. Weird.

Soon, I’m sitting on my butt tube. Not the most comfortable sensation, but when is a tube up your butt ever comfortable?

I have a better view of things now. This is no ordinary hospital room. The walls look plastic and the whole room is round. Stark-white light comes from ceiling-mounted LED lights.

There are two more hammock-like beds mounted to the walls, each with their own patient. We are arranged in a triangle and the roof-mounted Arms of Harassment are in the center of the ceiling. I guess they take care of all three of us. I can’t see much of my compatriots—they’ve sunken into their bedding like I had.

There’s no door. Just a ladder on the wall leading to . . . a hatch? It’s round and has a wheel-handle in the center. Yeah, it’s got to be some kind of hatch. Like on a submarine. Maybe the three of us have a contagious disease? Maybe this is an airtight quarantine room? There are small vents here and there on the wall and I feel a little airflow. It could be a controlled environment.

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