One Way by SJ Morden

24/04/2018

One Way by S J MordenFrank Kittredge is a lifer. Sentenced to jail for killing his son’s dealer, he is offered a chance: join a mission to Mars crewed by convicts to construct a settlement in anticipation of a crew of NASA astronauts or stay in prison and rot (Botany Bay, anyone?). He takes the deal, and not only that, is later offered a trip home and a pardon if he keeps an eye on his six fellow crew members for Brack, their unnecessarily sadistic and overbearing supervisor. 

 After way too long describing the team’s training, including how they learn to drive Mars buggies and build habs, the crew head to Mars. Almost immediately things start going wrong and crew members start to die. This finally kicks a thriller element into gear as an Agatha Christie-style And Then There Were None situation starts to develop and Frank has to investigate the mounting death toll without becoming a victim himself. 

 Andy Weir’s The Martian managed to hit a certain sweet spot between technobabble, scientific accuracy, character and plot. SJ Morden goes down a similar road in One Way but with less success. He spends in inordinate amount of time on the science and engineering challenges of training for and building a settlement on Mars. The idea to use convicts as a disposable labour force is original but given their easily avoided one man oversight, not worth thinking about too hard. The slowly creeping dread as one by one the crew members die in “accidents” provides some impetus, particularly cranking up in the final act.  

 In the background to the main plot, Morden charts the development of the idea to send expendable convicts to Mars to do the dirty work. This behind-the-scenes corporate skullduggery gives the book some thematic depth and a different spin on Frank’s experience. The attention to detail is commendable and everything about the mission itself and its preparation is believable. Which only serves to make One Way interesting rather than page-turning. 

This review first appeared in Aurealis #109, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, www.aurealis.com.au 

One Way by SJ Morden

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One Way by SJ Morden

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2 Comments

  • Steve Gardner 30/05/2019 at 11:33 pm

    As you say, this book is much stronger on the science and engineering than it is on believable characters and plot. And I don’t mind the time spent describing the technical challenges: that’s part of what I want from a Mars book. But I also want characters I care about, and interesting rather than pantomime villains. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare every book about the settlement of Mars with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, but it’s also inevitable. But I kept thinking that I would have cared a lot more about the characters who died if we had gotten some chapters from their perspectives, instead of seeing everything through Frank Kittridge’s eyes. And Frank himself isn’t fully realised as a character: smart and resourceful enough to survive on Mars but stupidly and absurdly trusting of obvious villains.

    • robertgoodman 31/05/2019 at 2:06 pm

      Agreed. And the sequel goes down the same path – it introduces a small bunch of new characters about a third of the way through but the reader is given no reason to care about them. Again, glaringly obvious signs leading to a “big” reveal which drives the action in the last hundred or so pages. But plenty of techie living on Mars stuff if that’s what you want.

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