4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Frank had been inside for a while as he was serving a life sentence for murdering his son’s drug dealer. It wasn’t much of a life, so he was surprised when he was told that there was someone who wanted to see him. He is chained to the chair and table before this unknown visitor is escorted in. A guy in a sharp suit is allowed in through the door, he sits placing his briefcase on the table between them and opens it up. He takes a folder out with Frank’s name on it. The guy, he is calling himself, Mark is there to make Frank an offer. Not to commute his sentence, but to serve it in another location, Mars.

He would be there with seven other ex-cons to build and maintain the first permanent base on the red planet. It is not something that Frank is expecting and it takes him a while to think it through. Die in prison on Earth or live a little on Mars. As choices go, it wasn’t much of one, but it was one more than he had yesterday. He signed.

The journey to the desert training ground was unpleasant but uneventful; It was there he realised just what he had got himself into, the company owned him completely. He made the decision to get on with it if the training didn’t kill him first though. He must have passed the initial training as he was asked to report to Building Six through the implant in his head. He headed up to the first floor and pressed his finger against the glass and the door clicked open. Inside were six others wearing the same uniform as him; they came across as ex-cons by the way that they held themselves; this must be his new team.

The training is intense, they have to learn how to assemble the fab that will be living accommodation for them and then the astronauts when they arrive sometime later on Mars. Frank with his experience of building starts to become the natural leader. The guy running the show, Brack, is a nasty piece of work, and whilst the team begins to work together well after a few teething issues, none of the others seems to like him. Their short six month training period is up and then they are heading to Mars with being in suspended animation for eight months.

Their journey is long and uneventful and the first thing that Frank feels on waking, is pain. It soon passes and he finds out that their supply cylinders are scattered far and wide. When he is with it enough it will be up to him and Marcy to walk out to where the buggies are and return with them. That way they will able to get to the other drops for the remainder of the supplies. They suit and set off knowing that they only really have enough air to just make it there and back.  It is tight, but they just make it back.

It takes time to head to the various places to get to the supply drops and they find various things are damaged. They make a plan to make do and mend and assemble as habitable a Mars base as they can. But their very short training is causing accidents, and that soon turns into casualties. It is a tough environment, but the attrition rate seems far higher than Frank would expect; then it dawns on him that there might be someone on the team that is doing this deliberately…

As space-based thrillers go, I thought this was pretty good. It is fast-paced, the systems and stuff that they were making the base out of seemed plausible and it is full of strong and flawed characters. I liked the way that the beginning of each chapter had some of the internal emails and transcripts that add to the back story of the book. The strong plot builds in intensity as the end of the books approaches and I zipped through the final chapters in the rush to find out what happens. I thought that it was much better than The Martian and will be getting the sequel to read at some point.

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