One Way

Posted: November 19, 2019 in Book reviews, science fiction
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9781473222571-ukBy S. J. Morden

When a corporation hired by NASA to set up a base on Mars realises how expensive the endeavour will be, they hit on a novel solution. They send a group of convicts on a one-way mission to get everything ready for the real astronauts to arrive.

Frank Kittridge was an architect until he murdered the man dealing drugs to his son, now he’s a convict who’ll likely die in prison, so when offered the chance to travel to Mars, to use his skills once more and to do something meaningful, he jumps at the chance.

The training is harsh, and his fellow astronauts are a shady bunch, but they make it to Mars and begin building the base. Which is when they start to die. At first Frank thinks the deaths are accidental, but soon it becomes clear, one of them is a murderer, and with no way of escaping Mars, Frank must work out who it is before he becomes the next victim.

It really takes talent to take a premise such as this—’The Dirty Dozen’ meets ‘And Then There Were None’ meets ‘The Martian’—and make it so utterly dull, but Morden manages it. One presumes the book was sold on the back of the idea, and to be fair it is a doozy of an idea, and to cash in on the phenomenal success of The Martian. One hopes it wasn’t sold on the back of the plot, which is plodding and predictable, or the prose, which is clunky and lifeless.

For starters it’s pretty obvious from the get-go who the murderer is. Maybe Morden is trying to pull a clever double bluff, but if he is it doesn’t work. That’s fine though, and if the rest of the book had been any good it might not have mattered, but it isn’t.

Plot wise things take an age to get going, and we’re well into the book before the cons get to Mars. Again this would be fine is the author had used the training scenes to introduce us to the characters, get us inside their heads, but he doesn’t, and that’s a major flaw with the book, very few characters stand out aside from maybe Zeus, the hulking former white supremacist covered in swastika tattoos who got religion and seems to have turned into a nice guy, but even here the author undercuts himself. We have Zeus, and then we have Zero, breaking the cardinal rule of not having characters with similar names. Most of the cast are little more than cardboard cut outs, chess pieces with no life of their own who exist only for Morden to move around the board, and one by one remove from the board.

They all sound the same, spouting cliched dialogue, or just plain dull dialogue. Morden’s prose is leaden and I’m sorry but surely an editor should have made improvements. “It’s Frank,” said Frank, being just one example of how clunky the prose is.

As a one off read it never got quite so bad that I wanted to toss it aside, but I’ve since found out there’s a sequel and I won’t be reading that one.

Great premise, lousy execution.

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