BOOK REVIEW: One Way, by S. J. Morden

one way.jpg

 

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: One Way (#1)

Genre: Tomorrow Fiction/Murder Mystery

Pages: 330

Publication Date: 23/08/18

Verdict: 3/5

 

In 2048, a team is sent to establish a permanent base on Mars.

But these are not trained astronauts. To save money, the XO company have sent a group of criminals to the red planet. Each serving life, or worse, this is their chance to do something good with what is left of their lives. Then the deaths start happening.

Frank Kittridge doesn’t believe the official line that these are accidents. As the death toll mounts, he becomes increasingly certain that there is a murderer on Mars. But in a crew of hardened criminals, it could be anyone . . .

 

There’s a long history of crime and SF running together. Asimov’s Caves of SteelJack Campbell’s JAG in Space series, Michael Mammay’s Planetside, the list is long. And now One Way joins it. unfortunately, it can’t quite reach the height of those mentioned above.

If the cover isn’t enough to give it away, the blurb make sit perfectly clear that this is a murder mystery. A classic tale in the vein of Agatha Christie’s And Then there Were None. BUt it takes too long for the murders to start. Nearly a third of the book is set up, introducing us to characters that we know are going to be picked off one by one. This is of course standard fare for a whodunnit, it’s just too long. I can’t help but feel the book would have been better if had chosen which genre to follow.

As a tale of colonisation, of humanity conquering our nearest neighbour, One Way actually starts off very well. Cover quotes and reviews are to be believed when they compare this to The Martian, at least in this respect. Morden clearly knows his science, and gives just the right amount of information. Each chapter starts with an extract from emails, conversations and notes showing the development of this latest Mars mission. They’re information heavy, but never feel like infodumps. They are also, sadly, the best parts of the book. If it had been the story of XO’s development and planning that I had been reading, One Way would probably have rated higher.

The problem is that once the killings start, it’s painfully obvious who the killer is. The characterisations are sketchy, even Frank himself is more than a little bland. It’s only the killer who has any real personal stakes. But everybody either refuses to accept that there is a murder at all, or else blames someone else. I’m not sure if I got lucky and spotted a clue that others didn’t, but it just seemed too easy. If it’s a murder mystery, I should have to spend time working it out. Not hit upon the answer immediately. And as for the killer’s motivation . . . Well, it made no sense to me. The premise of sending criminals to do the risky first settlement is a god one, but the ending undercuts that. Sacrificing a better ending in favour of setting up a sequel.

Which is a real shame. If, as I strongly suspect, this is to be a series about colonising Mars rather than a murder-of-the-week deal, then it’s off to a rocky start. Given the death toll by the end of the book, it’s hard to see how the story can proceed without rapidly changing goals. I would hope that the sequel No Way would deal with that from a colonisation perspective, rather than continuing Frank’s story. But I doubt I’ll read it.

 

Put simply, One Way starts as a promising colonisation narrative, but ends up as a less-than-average murder mystery.

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