Review – One Way by S. J. Morden

One Way
By: S. J. Morden
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Publisher: Orbit
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)

Murder mysteries set in space is quickly becoming a subgenre I never knew I needed in my life. After reading Gunpowder Moon by David Pedriera, I knew I needed to read One Way. One Way by S. J. Morden is a fast paced near future science fiction murder mystery story.

One Way is the story of Frank, a convicted criminal imprisoned for life for the murder of his son’s drug dealer. One day, a deal is offered. Come and work for them and he’ll be free, in a sense. People are needed to build the first base on Mars ahead of the arrival of the NASA scientists. In exchange for his work he’ll be allowed to live on the base for the rest of his life – not quite free but not imprisoned as he would be on Earth either. Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple. His fellow convict builders begin to die one by one almost as soon as they arrive on Mars. There’s a very limited number of people it could be, and all of them are trapped far away from help.

The story is told from Frank’s point of view. The pacing is pretty quick. A large portion of the novel is dialogue, which definitely pushes the pacing faster. There isn’t always a lot of descriptive paragraphs in the novel, partially because of the nature of the style it was written in and partially because the settings the character’s find themselves in don’t necessarily need repeated descriptions. When there is description of the scenery, it is often included very interestingly. A scene that stuck with me was Frank describing the Mars terrain over the coms system, in part as a method to calm himself down in a stressful situation. This was rather unique, and didn’t break the writing style in order to deliver some great description of this alien world.

It wasn’t necessarily difficult to figure out who the murderer was despite attempts at subversion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to maybe keep in mind when reading as there wasn’t much mystery to the murder mystery aspect of the novel. Even so, I liked the ending. It was executed rather well, and I found myself enjoying the conclusion more than some other sections of the book.

I couldn’t always understand why Frank and the other characters (but mostly Frank) were so incredibly passive in their situation. Brack was a caricature of a prison warden. I honestly couldn’t wrap my head around why more than half a dozen convicts would simply do whatever Brack said despite him having no real power on Mars outside of what respect and authority the criminals grant him. Perhaps I simply don’t understand the psychology of having been in prison. I know I’m headstrong and spiteful to a fault.

Which leads me to my next point. The characters are a bit flat. Not much is known about the character’s pasts. The crimes they were incarcerated for aren’t always stated directly, instead hinted or guessed at by Frank. I wasn’t very attached to the vast majority of the characters, so their deaths didn’t hit as hard as they could have. On top of that, it makes the ‘whodunnit’ aspect a bit moot. We simply don’t know anything about the characters that would support theories as to why they would murder their companions beyond anything basic and superficial. While I was interested in the plot, the tension simply wasn’t there.

Frank’s utter passivity was interesting in certain aspects, but mostly just infuriating. He just goes along with everything, never quite moving past a vague sort of uncertainty about events unfolding around him. The personality seen in the very first chapter of the novel when Frank first meets Brack isn’t seen again until around halfway through the novel when characters begin dying. Honestly, I found myself bored for multiple chapters at a time. Yet, when the plot finally began moving, I found myself more invested. This isn’t to say the book is slow – fast paced dialogue and multiple time skips keep the book moving along very well. But it wasn’t always enough to keep me solely focused on the story at hand.

This book ended on a fairly complete note. However, it does look as if this is going to turn into a series. Still, if you’re looking for a standalone novel to read, I think this would fit the bill. It has a beginning, a middle, an end, and doesn’t leave off on the equivalent of a page turn or chapter end.

In all, I would suggest reading One Way by S J Morden. It’s an interesting take on a near future we might conceivably see in our lifetimes combined with a murder mystery story in the same vein as And Then There Were None by Agatha Christi. If you like near future science fiction, stories about Mars, or mysteries this is a book you’ll want to check out.

Read If:
You like murder mysteries; You like stories set in first person

Don't Read If:
You like stories with lots of colorful description; You don't like characters who can be rather flat

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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