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

The Art of Logic - Eugenia Cheng ***

This is an important book, though I'm not sure Eugenia Cheng would agree with my logic in saying so. 

Going on the marketing, what we have here is a counter to fake news and dodgy argumentation in the form of mathematical logic. The back cover tells us 'Newspaper headlines and social media use emotions to warp the facts. Politicians and companies master rhetoric to mislead us. What one book could help us make sense of it all?' Admittedly they don't answer their rhetorical question, but I assume the answer is intended to be The Art of Logic. (Did the company behind this book realise it was using rhetoric, though presumably not to mislead us?) 

What we actually have is a combination of a lucid and interesting explanation of the basics of logic with the mathematical equivalent of those books such as Algorithms to Live By that were so popular a couple of years ago. They used the logic of algorithms (differently worded, and, to me, easier to understand), the heart of computer…

Quantum Economics - David Orrell ****

David Orrell's earlier title Economyths is one of my favourite popular science books of all time. Or, perhaps, I should say popular non-science, as Orrell shows just how devastatingly traditional economics uses the tools of science without having a scientific basis. I was, therefore, really looking forward to reading Orrell's new book - until I saw the title. As anyone involved with physics can tell you, there's nothing more irritating than the business of sticking the word 'quantum' onto something to give a pseudo-scientific boost to waffle and woo. Was Orrell doing the same thing? Thankfully, his introduction put my fears aside.

Orrell, a mathematician with a physics background quickly makes it clear that the way he is using quantum theory is not just employing magic words, but involves making use of strong parallels between the nature of quantum objects and concepts like money (more on money in a moment). Yes, this is to some extent a metaphorical use of quantum …

The Ashtray - Errol Morris *****

Wow. When someone suggested I read a book called The Ashtray, written by a documentary film-maker, it didn't strike me that it would be a book that gave deep insights into the history and philosophy of science - while also being a remarkable reading experience. In fact, I almost didn't bother with it, but I'm glad that I did.

The titular ashtray was thrown at the author when he was a grad student - thrown by one of the two best known names in the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn, he of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the concept of paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't like the young Errol Morris daring to challenge his ideas and reacted with what some would regard as a less than philosophical reply by hurling a heavy glass ashtray at him.

Part of the reason that reading The Ashtray is a remarkable experience is because it's a book that feels in some ways like watching a documentary. I have to confess I've never seen any of Morris's work, but he uses vis…