After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team.
But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.
Finding a footprint in a place the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. Is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind? Regardless of what horrors she might discover, or what they might do to her sanity, Anna has find the truth before her own mind destroys her.
Before Mars by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anna Kubrin is newly arrived on Mars, ready to join the team as a geologist. She has been travelling in a spaceship on her own for 6 months, spending most of her lonely time in mersives – VR memories that are recorded by the chip in a person’s brain, that they can go back and relive any time they want.
When Anna gets to Mars though, things aren’t what she expected them to be. She has instinctive emotions towards the other members of the team she meets on Mars that she doesn’t understand. Little, odd things seem out of place and she starts to think that the base’s AI is lying to her, that it is trying to keep her away from one specific location on the Mars surface.
Anna knows that something is wrong but sometimes she doubts her own sanity, not helped by the base’s resident psychiatrist telling her that she is suffering from too much time spent in mersives.
Anna never wanted children, she feels her husband forced the decision on her and now she appears to be suffering from postnatal depression. Unable to form a connection with her daughter she took the opportunity to travel to Mars as a geologist and artist. Now, she feels guilty for her decision at the same time as feeling glad that she has left the claustrophobic atmosphere of her family.
It’s good to have a main character who is a mother struggling with motherhood. Anna is a flawed, struggling woman who is often hard to like but compelling to read about. Her honesty to us and herself about her issues with her child and her husband are refreshing. They are much needed in a world that likes to present motherhood as a mythical state of enlightenment, something that is inbuilt into a woman’s psyche, as though it’s not difficult and as much a trial and error experience as everything else in this world. We need more women characters like this in fiction.
It’s a very clever, twisty plot, is Anna right or is she imagining things? Should she trust the other team members or is she right to be suspicious of them? It took me back and forth between believing Anna and thinking that she is wrong about it all. It kept me guessing as it built up the suspense.
I loved the tech in the book, it takes what we have now and pushes it and expands on it making the setting fell very realistic. It mixes in a mystery, which I also love, and throws in a fair bit of a thriller atmosphere and then mixes it all perfectly. This has to be one of my favourite sci-fi books of the last few years.
Emma Newman is a very versatile author. I never would have imagined after reading the Split Worlds fantasy series that she could be such a good sci-fi author. Each book in this series focuses on different events in the same universe and has different themes and a different feel to them. It’s all very cleverly done, I wish more series were built up like this. For me, she is up there with China Mieville in her refusal to being categorised as an author of a specific genre.
Before Mars follows quite closely the second book in the series, the two tales intertwine at points but I don’t think you will need to have read that to read this. I recommend that you do read that though, and the first one as they are both brilliant and will add a lot to the backstory of this one. Like I said though, no specific need to, if you think this sounds like one you really want to read then you won’t have much of an issue if you start here.
I all around enjoyed this one, I sped through it in a few days and I’ve already started on After Atlas, the next book in the series. I highly recommend this series if you like sci-fi.