This book was sent to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.
21.02.19 / Gollancz / Science-Fiction / Paperback / 384pp / 978-1473222595
Target Audience: Readers who enjoy high-stakes thrillers mixed with quality science-fiction concepts and exploration. Gritty, action packed and complex enough for those who appreciate scientific detail.
About No Way
The explosive sequel to ONE WAY. Eight astronauts were set to Mars to build NASA’s Mars base, and only one survived. Now all he needs to do is get home . . .
Frank Kittridge is alone on Mars. But XO, the corporate architects of the first Mars base, made a costly mistake when they left him there: they left him alive. Using his skills and his wits, he’s going to find a way back home even if it kills him.
But there are dangers on Mars even Frank isn’t prepared for, and a mystery he has to solve in order to survive.
If there’s anything in Frank’s favour, it’s this: he’s always been prepared to go to the extremes to get the job done. That’s how he ended up on Mars in the first place. It just might be his ticket back.
S. J. Morden’s No Way is the nail-bitingly tense and morally decisive follow-up to the phenomenal science-fiction blast that was One Way. Morden has upped the ante higher than ever before! With an expertly cultivated tension that builds to an uncomfortable breaking point and hugely satisfying science fiction set pieces, No Way was a hell of a ride. Frank is back and he is not going down without a fight. XO be damned. Beware of spoilers for One Way and a few for No Way too.
In 2048, prisoner Frank Kittridge beat overwhelming odds and even death multiple times whilst travelling to Mars and establishing Mars Base One alongside a crew of convicts who entered into the same fate. Taking the offer from Xenosystems Operations to exchange his 120 year life sentence on Earth to one on Mars, putting his construction skills to use and doing something useful instead of fading away in a cell. Taking part in humanity’s first mission to Mars. Frank agreed to make history that will never remember him for it
It turns out the leader of the group, Lance Brack, was under orders to eliminate the crew as their jobs were completed to leave no evidence of the shady workings of XO around for when NASA arrive at MBO. Frank connected with these people, even with their unsavoury pasts, and witnessing them die one by one finally put him into action. Seeing the situation for what it truly is, an execution, Frank saves his own life by killing Brack when his time comes and in doing so leaves himself stranded on Mars without a plan.
No Way begins with Frank deciding to make a deal with XO and agreeing to pretend to be Lance Brack when NASA arrive in the coming months. Carrying out the rest of Brack’s orders and completing Phrase 3, Frank busies himself getting MBO in order and collecting additional supplies. Learning seven different roles to help keep the lights on, the food fresh and the hab safe. On a supply run far to the south of MBO, Frank sees the impossible. Another XO suit in the distance. How is this possible? Is this a hallucination? Did XO put another base on Mars? Why didn’t they tell him? Are they a threat to MBO? How many are there? Fleeing with these questions in his mind, Frank goes to XO for answers.
With XO putting Frank in an impossible scenario just before NASA arrive, Frank’s judgement is put to the test and he needs to push the boundaries of his presence on Mars to find answers. With a new crew to look after, threats from above and the chance of a new life on Earth slipping from his grasp. Frank must deal with a planet that could kill them at any second, an unknown threat on the horizon and pretending to be a completely different person; holding his cards close to his chest so he can keep everyone alive. Frank is a survivor. Now he is a protector too.
SJ Morden has out done himself with No Way. Using the platform that he created in One Way to deliver an unbelievably tense sequel that had even more grit, heart and bold classic SF moments that beat its predecessor by a mile. I was always a fan of Frank but No Way pushed his character even further than ever before and it is hard not to get sucked into his desperate moral dilemma and literal fight for survival. Frank went to prison for doing the right thing the wrong way and is constantly trying to make up for that decision.
Frank is a tough guy but with Mars breaking down his psychological barriers, the reader gets more than they bargained for with him. Emotionally stretched and seeing the ghostly impressions of his co-convicts is one thing but keeping it together in front of new people is another challenge. The psychological themes in this book are absolutely superb and add an impressive tone and atmosphere to every key moment in the narrative. Luisa was a nice touch too and helped but Frank (and myself at ease).
In my opinion, the most important element of this novel was going to be how Morden delivered the presence of new crew members onto Mars. The introductions of both sets (bit of a spoiler) were handled with precision and really hit me as a reader. They are both vivid and tense moments that stick in the mind and change the entire atmosphere of the novel for the better, or worse.
I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the science that Morden envisions here but it seems realistic enough to me. Morden keeps it grounded and elaborates on the inner workings of MBO but doesn’t drown the reader in detail. It is sophisticated without being overwhelming. This is as much a thriller as it is an accessible SF novel. Key SF areas include space travel, Mars landings, habs and suits, vehicles, surviving the treacherous Mars weather patterns, studying Martian physics and terrain and many other cool concepts.
There are plenty of antagonistic individuals and environments to contend with here and that brings me to the other key theme that makes Morden’s work so readable. Morality. No Way is chocked full of moral questions and decisions. It challenged me as a reader because I was constantly putting myself in Frank’s shoes to see what I would do. XO are willing to sell souls for progress and they picked wrong when they thought Frank would die for their cause. Frank is an admirable character, an imperfect hero, taking life on the chin and not losing focus. He is the soul of this book and he is certainly a character worth investing in.
Morden is a class act and I have followed his SF writings for years. He is constantly one-upping himself and No Way is evidence of yet another pinnacle. His descriptive detail has been honed to perfection. There wasn’t a moment in this book that I wasn’t involved. Whether it be in the martian landscape, Frank’s dilemma or everything that is brought into the mix. The pacing and development was spot-on. Constantly delivering memorable moments. I was on edge, emotional, awestruck, thrilled and amused by this narrative. It’s a good old fashioned SF thriller with gripping themes and enough action and risk to satisfy readers who are that way inclined. No Way certainty hides a few darker moments for readers with a stronger stomach too.
No Way is yet another stand-out SF novel from SJ Morden and I can’t recommend it enough to a wide array of readers. As I have said, No Way covers SF, psychological thriller, action/adventure and more within its boundaries. There is so much tension, dread, hope and survival instinct swirling around that is hard not to get sucked in. I am assuming there will be a third novel (I was surprised how hard that last sentence hit me!) and I am definitely ready for it. I don’t often re-read a series but One Way and No Way are worth another go round.
About S J Morden
Dr S. J. Morden has won the Philip K. Dick Award and been a judge on the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He is a bona fide rocket scientist with degrees in Geology and Planetary Geophysics. ONE WAY is the perfect fusion of his incredible breadth of knowledge and ability to write award-winning, razor-sharp science fiction.