25 September 2023

No Way

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By SJ Morden, Gollancz.

SJ Morden’s No Way begins not long after the first book in this series One Way ends. It is hard to speak about that first book without spoilers so suffice to say that at the end of One Way, Frank Kitteridge is the last survivor of a mission to establish a Martian base designed to support a team of NASA astronauts. What NASA does not know, and what Frank continues to need to keep secret, is that this base was built by people not robots. He also needs to pretend that he is the mission leader Lance Brack as that who the NASA team is expecting to see.

Frank has eight months on his own on the Red Planet before NASA arrives. Enough time to blackmail his employer, XO, and clean the base up. During that time he also makes another discovery – that there is another XO base, just within the range of his own. This base has lost its communications and ability to track down supplies and the representative that he meets does not look healthy. When Frank asks about this base he is told in no uncertain terms not to reveal its existence to the NASA crew. After that crew arrives Frank starts to buckle under the weight of the secrets he is required to carry.

As with One Way, a lot of this book feels like a redux of The Martian. Plenty of descriptions of driving around on the surface of Mars, making sure the base has power and can produce food and oxygen and dealing with dust storms. But lurking in the background is the threat of the other base which is realised when one of the NASA crew goes missing and conflict escalates from there. This turns what is otherwise a scientific expedition into another survival thriller.

Morden has successfully broadened his scope in this sequel after the ending of the first book left its protagonist stranded a million miles from home. But it suffers from the same issues of that volume – a group of not memorable characters in the NASA crew, lengthy descriptions of the Martian landscape or the engineering and scientific fixes for the challenges of living on Mars, and a fairly far fetched scenario involving the fairly rogue corporation XO. So while the premise in many ways more interesting than the previous book, this will probably only really work for Mars aficionados.

This and 300 more reviews can be found at Pile By the Bed.

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