Skip to main content

Before Mars (SF) - Emma Newman *****

Perhaps the most impressive thing with a good piece of writing is when careful plotting brings together disparate  pieces of information that the reader has absorbed (in this case over two previous books) to provide a lucid whole. In Before Mars, Emma Newman powerfully  combines a truly engaging mystery, based on a small Mars base, with the unfolding drama that took place on Earth in the previous novel After Atlas.

While it's not essential to have read the earlier book first, it's highly recommended to do so. This gives the reader a strong sense of having an overview of what's happening in the background, where the characters don't - only to have the twist near the end of the book add satisfying complexity.

As with the previous novels, Newman perhaps works a bit too hard at making her central character someone with personal difficulties, not helped by a distinct lack in places of 'show, don't tell' with page after page of internal monologue - some of which (particularly about not relating to her daughter) contributed nothing to the plotting.

In the end, though, this doesn't matter. As it has several times before, Mars proves a great location for a tense, claustrophobic thriller - but the way this story weaves into the bigger Planetfall picture makes it far more than that.

In her first three Planetfall books - it's hard to imagine there won't be more - Newman has proved herself utterly in control of a massive story arc. I just can't wait for what comes next.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Five Photons - James Geach ****

It is generally acknowledged that Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is one of the most common books to be bought but not read beyond the first few pages. If you are the kind of popular science reader who found Hawking hard going, you can stop now - Five Photons is not for you. If, on the other hand, you found A Brief History of Time a piece of cake and wished you could get into more depth without resorting to heavy mathematics or a tedious textbook style, Five Photons could be just up your street.

Astrophysicist James Geach starts of fairly gently with a chapter on the nature of light that mostly sets aside quantum physics, leading up to the observation that light is our vehicle for for stripping back the history of the universe to its earliest times (or, at least, the point where the universe became transparent). From here on, the five photons of the title take us on different journeys, from the oldest surviving light of the cosmic microwave background radiation to that fr…