One Way by S.J. Morden

ONE WAY opens at the dawn of a new era – one in which we’re ready to colonise Mars. But the contract to build the first ever Martian base has been won by the lowest bidder, so they need to cut a lot of corners. The first thing to go is the automatic construction… the next thing they’ll have to deal with is the eight astronauts they’ll sent up to build it, when there aren’t supposed to be any at all.

Frank – father, architect, murderer – is recruited for the mission with the promise of a better life, along with seven of his most notorious fellow inmates. As his crew sets to work, the accidents mount up, and Frank begins to suspect they might not be accidents at all. As the list of suspects grows shorter, it’s up to Frank to uncover the terrible truth before it’s too late.

One Way is one of those books that will make you think about the way that the world works.

This is a hard sci-fi book, and for those unfamiliar with that term, it means that the science in this science fiction leans more towards the plausible than the fantastical. In this context the word “hard” could also allude to the hard look that One Way takes at the concept of colonising Mars

Let’s be completely honest with ourselves here. Nobody who has tried to colonise anything in the past has ever done so with completely selfless motives. No colonisation has ever taken place without excessive pain, cruelty, and suffering. Colonisation has, historically, been motivated by greed.

So why, when we think of colonising Mars, do we think that things will be any different?

One Way explores this concept with a cynical eye; the book is painfully aware of the brutal, profit-driven society that we currently live in.

Our main character, whom we follow through a third person perspective, is Frank. At the very beginning of our story, Frank is serving a life sentence for the murder of his son’s drug dealer. In the first chapter, a representative of the conglomerate known as Xenosystems Operations (or XO for short) offers Frank what is essentially a prison transfer. In exchange for better food, a meaningful job, and a bit more freedom, Frank would help construct the first ever base on Mars.

Why would XO want a convict to build their ridiculously expensive space base? Well… because convicts are cheap. In fact, this ridiculously expensive space base isn’t anywhere near as expensive as it should be. XO have cut corners at every opportunity to decrease their costs, and this is the source of a lot of the conflict in this story.

Frank is one of eight prisoners who will be part of the first construction team on Mars. Their job is to construct the base, and get everything ready for the arrival of the Very Important NASA astronauts — including the growing of food, and the set-up of very fancy science equipment.

Quite a bit of the sciencey stuff is explained, but if you’re looking for something akin to Mark Watney’s witty and hilarious analogies from The Martian, you might be a bit disappointed. The stuff is interesting enough, if you’re a nerd like me, but it’s described in a much more serious tone.

🎵🎵 The tube is connected to the… Air-lock 🎵🎵

Some of the members of Frank’s team are pretty interesting characters. There’s Alice, a doctor with over thirty illegal mercy killings on her conscience. There’s Zeus, an apologetic ex-Neo-Nazi who has recently found religion. Then there’s 5 more, all with their own pasts and demons.

It should be noted that this isn’t really a character-driven story. Nor is it a story defined by its plot. The concept of space colonisation in a capitalist society is at the heart of what One Way is, and it’s the exploration of that concept which is — in my opinion — the best part of the book.

At one point the prisoners have to make the decision to prioritize their air, their food, or their water. It’s little touches like that which really caught my imagination. There is very little sense of wonder because our characters are too busy trying to Get Shit Done, and more importantly, survive.

The following (paraphrased) quote sums up the book for me:

“We’re not tourists, and we’ve got deadlines.”

And oh yeah… on top of all the above, there’s also a murder mystery.

If you’re looking for a high-action adventure-filled romp in space with explosions and laser beams and romance… this isn’t the book for you. But if you like books that offer interesting and insightful commentary on society, then One Way might be something you’d enjoy.

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