Forty years ago, the massive starship Atlas left Earth for a distant planet in search of God. The ship carried ten thousand of humanity’s most brilliant scientific minds, led by a charismatic woman called the Pathfinder. The billions left behind on Earth are struggling with overpopulation, rising seas, the shrinking availability of arable land, limited drinkable water supplies, and tyrannical governments dedicated solely to the profit motive. Shortly now, officials will open a time capsule left behind by the Pathfinder, and the people of Earth will learn Atlas’ destination at last and how the ship was built.
Meanwhile, a crew of four holds out at Mars Principia Base, broadcasting a wildly popular “mersive” that allows millions to share the experience of living on the surface of the Red Planet. One of Earth’s most fearsome corporations, GaborCorp, has exclusive rights to Mars and has not seen fit to expand its presence there. This is the setting to which Dr. Anna Kubrin has been sent by no less than the company’s CEO, Stefan Gabor. She is a geologist by profession and an accomplished amateur painter. Gabor has sent her to Mars to paint scenes he can sell for huge amounts of money to collectors. But Anna unaccountably meets a chilly reception at Principia Base. And soon other mysteries begin to surface, one after another, causing her to doubt her sanity.
Before Mars (Planetfall #3) by Emma Newman (2018) 351 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
A psychological thriller in a science fiction setting
Before Mars is a psychological thriller in a science fiction setting, and it works well in both genres. The author skillfully reveals Anna’s backstory and her fraught relationships with the four residents of Principia Base and the AI that runs the place. We soon learn that Anna grew up in traumatic circumstances in a commune in the Scottish Highlands. “Sometimes I have the sense of a place within me in which all of that fear and pain and rage have been locked away,” she tells herself. Although the story is far-fetched by nature, the human interaction is eminently credible, and the novel is suspenseful to the end. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you label it a psychological thriller or a science fiction novel. It’s a very good story.
About the author
Emma Newman writes science fiction and fantasy and cohosts and writes a Hugh-nominated podcast. She has ten novels and a book of short stories in print. Before Mars is the third entry in her Planetfall series. A fourth book is forthcoming at this writing.
For additional reading
Previously, I reviewed the first book in this series, Planetfall (A promising but disappointing new science fiction novel) and the second, After Atlas (A 22nd century police procedural in a fascinating future Earth). As you may be able to tell, I enjoyed the second book a whole lot more than the first.
For more good reading, check out Good books about space travel, including both nonfiction and fiction, and:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.