Gollancz | 2018 (10 April) | c.380p | Review copy | Buy the book
Frank Kittridge is not a man with a future. Serving a life sentence for murder, he is suddenly given an opportunity that won’t see him walking the streets as a free man but it would give him something else – a purpose, hope. Xenosystems Operations has won the contract to build the first permanent habitat on Mars but there’s a catch. Its tender said that it would construct the habitat with robotic technology, a technology that doesn’t exist. Instead, everything must be built by hand and as cheaply as possible, using a workforce that is expendable. XO intends to send eight convicts from its own private prison to do a job that comes with no guarantees of success – and with no ticket home. This will be a one way trip.
These eight astronauts are thrown together with nothing in common but a shared goal to stay alive and out of a dreaded prison called the Hole. But, working together and learning each other’s roles in order to provide back up if needed, they do discover a camaraderie, albeit one that cannot be trusted or relied upon. These are dangerous individuals after all. And that’s not even counting their single guard who seems even worse than they are. This trip will be no holiday.
One Way follows our convict astronauts through their training on Earth and then their first days and weeks on Mars, when they must use all of their ingenuity and skills to pull this habitat together in the face of almost insurmountable odds. And the fact that one of their number dies just hours after their arrival only increases their stress, nervousness and suspicions. When this death is followed by another, it becomes clear that the Martian environment isn’t the only danger they face.
I love novels set on Mars and this one has the added bonus of also being a murder mystery. A small group of individuals in a confined space, with no chance of escape, and a murderer among their number, is a tried and tested format and it works here very well. But, for me, it’s the descriptions of Mars itself and the heroic endeavour to build a life set within this lethal beauty that appeals the most.
There are elements that remind me of The Martian – there’s a lot of nitty gritty detail about building vehicles, transporting objects, putting them together, giving them power and so on. I must admit that there were bits of this that did float over my head. I’m no scientist and I’m not an engineer, electrician or plumber either, so I wouldn’t have been much help myself, but it’s the human effort that I enjoyed.
It’s difficult to warm to characters who were mostly convicts for life for very good reason. Some of the crimes are left vague, just so we don’t hate them too much, but with Frank his crime of murder is given a reason and, as it’s clear he would have no reason to ever do such a thing again, we can warm to him. We follow Frank through much of the novel, listening in to his worries and fears. His need to see his family again is intense and it drives him on. His doubts and anxieties feel very believable. Other characters stayed in the shadows for me but Frank has such a strong presence and identity.
I really enjoyed the claustrophobic feel to One Way as well as the stark beauty of its descriptions of Mars. As soon as I heard about One Way I knew I had to read it and it did not disappoint. And how I love that cover!