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One Way by S. J. Morden

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4
Book Name: One Way
Author: S. J. Morden
Publisher(s): Orbit (US) Gollancz (UK)
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Mystery
Release Date: April 10, 2018 (US) August 23, 2018 (UK)

Frank Kittridge is a middle-aged convict, doing time for killing his son’s drug supplier. His wife has divorced him and moved away with their son; he hasn’t heard from either of them since he went inside. He’ll never see them again and will die in prison serving his 120-year sentence. He’s not a typical murderer; he did what he did out of love, to protect his son. That’s what he tells himself.

The narrative quickly sets the scene and introduces us to Frank in third person. It’s not long before he has a mysterious guest with a very special offer: die in prison or live on Mars. The parent company who own the prison, Xenosystems Operations, are looking to get ahead in the space race and be the first to build a base on Mars. To do that, they need a team of people with the right skillset to go ahead of scientists and get a base functioning correctly before their arrival. He’s been chosen because he ticks the right boxes; he’s got construction skills and he’s expendable. The upside is that Frank gets out of prison and he becomes one of the first to live on Mars; the downside is that it’s a one-way trip. He’d be effectively swapping one prison for another. With his son still in mind, Frank wants to make him proud and accepts the offer. What could go wrong?

One Way can be a bit slow, particularly for the first half of the book. We’re often bogged down in hard science fiction, building living quarters, or rigging up hydroponics. In fact, for the first 100 pages, the crew hasn’t even left for Mars, so it could be a slow burner if you’re looking to get your crime kicks and expect a juicy murder right off the bat. However, it’s very well written and there’s clearly been a lot of research go into what it takes to build a habitable space base. As the author trained as a planetary geologist, the hard science fiction is understandable and passion in the subject shines through. 

We meet the team specially chosen to complete Frank’s group; six other convicts. Each have a desirable knowledge in a particular field, from medicine to transportation. The group is overlooked by Brack, an XO employee sent to make sure the team stays on track and gets the base ready in time for the arrival of the NASA scientists.

Given that the book is told solely from Frank’s perspective, we don’t really get a chance to develop any connections to these characters or peel back any of their layers. We only really learn as much about them as Frank is willing to talk to them about, which isn’t a lot. We discover a little about their background in regards to how they ended up with life sentences, but there are whole personalities that are just skimmed. 

This does have its benefits, however. As we’re given a bunch of characters who have one main thing in common, they’re all criminals, there’s a build-up of tension as things begin to go wrong once the team have landed on Mars. We aren’t given any information about these characters to be able to judge who is and who isn’t worthy of our suspicion. We’re to assume they’re all capable of wrongdoing, otherwise they wouldn’t be part of the mission in the first place. 

The first couple of deaths look like either suicide or an accident, but once Frank starts to investigate the details a little closer, things don’t add up. The group knew what they were letting themselves into and have built the base themselves, so they know how it works. They have the knowledge to avoid making mistakes that cost lives. So, what’s really going on? 

Chapters begin with audio transcripts, excerpts from emails or notes from within Xenosystems Operations which allows the reader to piece together a bigger picture of what’s happening, beyond Frank’s perspective. Chapter by chapter, these allude to a motive centred around corporate greed that’s perhaps not been conveyed to its fullest to the convicts living on the surface.

One Way is truly immersive and positions the main character as convict-turned-Miss Marple in a spacesuit (which totally works). If you’re looking for fast-paced action from the first page, then maybe give this a miss. It’s great for those that love the detail that comes from a passionate author who knows his subject matter. The sequel, No Way, is also out now.

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One Comment

  1. Great review, added ‘One Way’ to my TBR list. 🙂

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