AUDIO BOOK - ONE WAY **
Written by S.J. Morden.
Listening Length 12hrs and 2 minutes. RRP £17.49.
Out Now from Orion Publishing
Worried about prison overcrowding? Need cheap labour for your space base? S.J. Morden has the perfect solution in his sci-fi thriller ONE WAY; bung a bunch of convicts on Mars and get them to do all the hard work. The one downside is that you may have to contend with the odd spot of murdering scuppering your schedules.
Our lead is Frank Kittridge, a middle-aged former construction worker, sentenced to life in prison after shooting his son's drug dealer in the face in broad daylight. Frank wants out, so when a suspicious manicured businessperson gives him the chance to serve his sentence on Mars, but with added freedoms while constructing and maintaining a base, he accepts this unusual offer.
Six other convicts join Frank; Marcy (affable driver), Alice (prickly doctor), Zeus (physically imposing reformed neo-Nazi), Declan (sweaty creep), Zero (young drug cultivator) and Dee (curly headed stammering hacker). Overseeing them all is Brack, a shaven-headed and spiteful disciplinarian.
After some intensive training, involving running up mountains and having cameras shoved up their most private orifices, they arrive on Mars where things rapidly start to go awry and one by one the crew start dying in dubious circumstances.
In spite of a few tense passages, including a final confrontation that uses the limitations of space suits to significant effect, the novel is quite dull. This is highlighted within the narrative when Frank, after arriving on Mars, says ‘surprisingly quickly it became boring'. There are many exciting opportunities inherent in the central premise that are frustratingly not taken. A character briefly describes a doctor in a remote Arctic base forced to remove their appendix, and Frank says that he can imagine Alice doing that. But Alice doesn’t do this or anything even remotely interesting. If the most exciting thing happening in a novel is happening to a character in another story, then there’s a fundamental problem.
The ‘whodunnit’ side of the story is teased but not utilised effectively. The characters are introduced with tantalising hints about what they may have done in their pasts, but any tension is quickly undercut when their histories are revealed and dismissed. Annoyingly some of the potentially interesting characters exit the story before they get a chance to develop or meaningfully interact with others.
This audiobook narrated by William Hope. His voice, edgily dripping in cynicism, is an excellent fit for Frank’s narration. But his laconic drawl makes specific sequences which should be tense, such as the urgent assembly of a buggy on dwindling oxygen, seem oddly lifeless. He alters his voice for each character and his voice for Brack and Declan are both excellent and particularly creepy. But unfortunately the female characters, notably Alice, end up just sounding slightly constipated. I believe that I may have gotten more out of the novel by reading it rather than listening.
In spite of not personally enjoying ONE WAY, it’s not terrible. If you enjoy technically minded sci-fi like THE MARTIAN, but fancy a slightly different twist, there are things to like here. However, for those like myself, who want a bit more psychological depth and character development, it’s just not gripping or unique enough to stand out on the thriller aisle.
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