One Way and No Way are a duo of hard scifi novels set on Mars and written by Simon Morden. I'm usually not big on techno thrillers but I had so much enjoyed Morden's Books of Down that I gave it a try. Despite a slow start for me, I ended up loving it.
Frank is a murderer. He thinks he'll spend his life in prison, but he's offered an opportunity: being part of a team of convicts who will go to Mars to build a station for scientists who will arrive after them. The training is hard and very soon Frank realises they're expendable. When they arrive to Mars, people from his team start dying in accidents.
What sets apart One Way and No Way from your run-of-the-mill techno thrillers is that Morden, once again, weaves inside his narrative a thoughtful take on politics and society. I particularly enjoyed that he avoided 99.99% of the naive clichés considering where his story is going.
Regarding the characters, I have to admit that it took me some time to really warm up to Frank. Morden walks a fine line, after all Frank is a murderer. It's a bold choice that I appreciate. That fine line was nonetheless walked splendidly to the point that I ended up with something in my eye when I reached the end of No Way (due to my allergies, probably).
Sadly, most of the secondary characters failed to grab me, apart from a couple.
One Way and No Way are full of delicious science, but - and that's so rare that it deserves to be praised endlessly - it doesn't get in the way of the story. It's a pitfall of hard scifi but Morden makes the science part of the story: from routinely dusting the solar panels to driving through the craters. The planet isn't explored with a narrative voice telling you from afar what it is. It becomes alive with the characters interacting with it.
As thrillers, One Way sets up the mystery to be solved (while trying to survive) while No Way adds a new mystery, and more trying to survive, with added "How will the character get out of this situation?" It progresses nicely and reaches a satisfying conclusion. Though at some point in One Way you may want to shout at Frank that he's really stupid to not realise what is happening.
This duology is very entertaining, avoiding all the trappings of hard scifi and techno-thrillers, and with an interesting main character. It has most certainly made me certain that I'll follow what Morden will write in the future.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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