|Cover by www.blacksheep-uk.com|
Gollancz, 21 February 2019
I bought my copy of this book from Wallingford Bookshop and the audio from Audible.
This is another book I've been listening to in the car on my way to the station and back.
No Way follows on from One Way - beware because some spoilers for One Way follow. Look away now if you haven't read it yet, and go and do that. While you could read No Way as a standalone, it is much better enjoyed after reading the earlier book.
One Way told how in the middle years of the 21st century, Frank Kittridge, sentenced to decades in a privately run, super-max prison for murdering his son's dealer, is made an offer: join a team being assembled sent to Mars to establish a colony, and he can have limited freedom, living out his remaining years on the red planet.
The deal turns out to be a trap - Frank and his fellow cons, dismissed as 'chimps' by the XO Corporation, are destined to be killed off by an XO agent, Brack. The base they have constructed will then be handed over to NASA, which has been told that it will be constructed using robots. But the plan fails and Frank kills Brack, which is where No Way picks up.
Frank's dilemma is what to do next. Can XO deactivate life support in the MBO base, killing him? probably. Will they? Well, maybe they need him to clean up the base for the use of the NASA astronauts? But what then? The first part of this book is haunted by that tension, with every move Frank makes placing him at risk. As he notes, "Mars is trying to kill you". And there are particular reasons to be concerned - things he discovers as he goes about his daily tasks. (One of the joys of this book is Frank's practical bent. A builder by profession, he has a knack for solving problems, which is useful and makes for some interesting passages - it all comes over as very well researched and Morden largely avoids info dumps, although a map would have been useful).
I'm not going to exactly what happens to cause Frank concern, although I'm sorry to say the publishers print it on the back of the book. If you can possibly do so I'd avoid reading any of that because there is a little bit of a frisson from watching the signs in the story and asking yourself, can that be right? The tension only increases when the NASA astronauts arrive. Frank's cut a new deal with XO: he will clean things up, lie to NASA - pretend the base was built by robots - and in return be given a trip home. But that means he'd have no credibility if he were to warn the NASA crew about certain other things. This dilemma torments Frank: for the first time in years - apart from the brief spell when he was working with the other cons - he has people he can talk to, work with, and who respect him (even if they think he's Brack, a man Frank hated). But he can't be open with them. That would blow his deal with XO, and in any case, the NASA team would likely not believe him.
As things begin to go wrong, this pressure on Frank becomes almost tangible, accentuated by the cramped quarters of the base and its remoteness from Earth - contactable only via XO satellites. Mordern is very good as depicting Frank's anguish, his dithering and self-recrimination. Frank feels that all his choices have gone wrong, from the moment he killed that dealer, and he's continually undermined by self doubt - even in the face of all his success at staying alive and building and maintaining a habitable base (and other things which would be spoilery to describe).
It all comes to a climax, of course, with the survival of the base - and the crew - in real jeopardy. XO is a merciless opponent, and conditions on Mars very much favour them. In the end Frank is faced with the unenviable choice of coming clean, and being treated as a criminal or a madman, and staying silent, and seeing everyone die.
A superb, and superbly different, thriller. The audiobook version was excellent, William Hope delivering Frank's story in an appropriately clipped, gravelly voice that evoked the dusty wastes of Mars and the sweaty, patched-up nature of his life there.
For more about the book (no spoilers) see the Gallancz website