Agatha Christie on Mars

36262384I love a good mystery, and one of my favorite classics is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, in which a group of people, each with their own dark secrets, are trapped on an island, dying one by one.

It is easy to see how that book was likely an inspiration for this novel.

As One Way starts, Frank Kittridge is in prison for killing his son’s drug dealer. He has no contact with his now ex-wife and son, and is just existing. Then a man from the company that runs the prison presents him with a way out. But not on Earth. They are recruiting prisoners to go to Mars to build the base for the scientists and astronauts that would follow. Thinking that this would give his son something to be proud of, Frank agrees.

The training is tough, with his only real contact being other convicts being trained, and a guard who is a sadist. And before he really feels they are ready for it, Frank and the others, along with the sadist, are loaded into the rocket as frozen cargo and sent to Mars.

Of course, everything starts going wrong. First, part of the early loads sent to Mars went off-course slighting, and are at the absolute limit of what they can reach, and without those loads, they are dead. Retrieving the first one also results in the death of one of the team due to a fault in her spacesuit. She is the first death, but not the last. The convicts are working hard, and dying one by one until the last few realize that it isn’t just accident, but they are being murdered. But on a team of all murderers, who do you suspect.

I did have a couple of little issues with the plotting. No one realizes who the killer is or why until the very end, which is a little silly. No one is that trusting. I also don’t know how the company thought that they could cover everything up. Really? And why was there addictive drugs on the ship? One character dies of an overdose, and another develops and addiction, which leaves me wondering how it was that dangerous drugs were sent.

And I get the feeling that the author didn’t really know what to do with his female characters. There are two among the convicts, and they both die almost immediately on arrival on Mars, like he couldn’t wait to get rid of them rather than dealing with the complications that being female in an isolated, mostly male, group. I wish he could have done more with them.

Still, while I had figured out whodunnit and why well before the still living characters did, the book was a good read, and I look forward to the second book in the series.

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A different type of Classical Poetry

40893727Reading classical poems can always be problematic, because attitudes have changed drastically over time. The poems of ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad in War SongsĀ were written in the sixth century CE (or more than 1400 years ago, in other words). Today, the idea of a warrior (not soldier) who will then turn around and compose poems about his enemies, his allies, his *horse*, is just not something that feels real to a modern reader. Or writing odes about his lost love, while also referring to ‘my woman’ (ie, a slave who travels with him).

I found the historical lessons in the introduction to the book to be fascinating, and I’m wondering if there are any books about ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad, or about the time period. Apparently there is a comic book based on him, though.

Beyond all that, the poems were enthralling (although sometimes a very modern term will make me stumble, since I expected something a little more stilted). My only wish is that while each poem is preceded by notes about the translation, there is a lot of material in the appendixes (such as commentaries from Arab writers closer in time to the original), that I would have preferred to have had with those notes instead of having to flip back and forth. But considering that this is a publication from a university press, I really appreciated the thoroughness of the coverage.

And this is why I don’t run

27917989In Death Chase by Lizella Prescott, Mira, Isabelle, and Kimmy are college friends running a 50km wilderness race together when strange things, disturbing things, start happening. Along the trail they find strange art, threatening messages, possibly poisoned cookies and beer left on the route.

As we go, we learn that the three are trying to repair their friendship after something bad had happened that had finally led to Mira going into rehab for a year. As they go along, and especially after finding a dead body, we find out through flashbacks just what happened that their friendship needed repairs. Mira is the focus, and driver, of the events, and as we go, we learn just how bad it was. It got to the point where I wondered why the other two would even bother to have anything to do with her, considering the fallout.

I did see part of the end twist coming, but the rest of it still caught me off-guard. And as for the ‘what happened after,’ it was painful and oh so believable.

All in all, I found this book to be the perfect little thriller, closer to a novella than a novel at only about 170 pages, with the tension ramping up to an explosive conclusion. It proves that gems can be found from small presses.

Navajo fantasy. Cool

36373295Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse is a style of book I have never (personally) run into before. One the one hand, it’s an urban fantasy with monsters and gods walking the Earth. On the second hand, it’s a post-apocalyptic world (it’s called the Big Water, but the tidbits dropped indicate that it was faster and more violent than just sea level rise from climate change). On the third hand (shit, where did that third hand come from?) it’s a book set on an Indian reserve that raised a magical wall made of turquoise to protect their territory from the outside world and refugees. Again, we get hints about the outside world, but nothing detailed. Hopefully we’ll find out more in a future volume in the series.

Maggie Hoskie is a monster slayer, recently abandoned by her god-like mentor who saved her life after her grandmother was killed. She gets called on to find a child kidnapped by a new type of monster. From there, she ungraciously accepts the help of her neighbour’s too-handsome healer grandson to track down the origins of these new monsters. Oh, and Coyote is harassing her to do something for him, and you can never trust Coyote, even when he’s trying to help you.

The world is incredibly well-drawn, both in the mundane and the supernatural elements. Non-humans walk the reserve, and people’s clan histories give them unusual abilities. Maggie is a wonderfully damaged heroine, and Kai is an intriguing side-kick, although I do hope for more of his history in the next book. The book could have used a pronunciation guide (it took me a while to get over trying to figure out how to pronounce those bizarre accented characters), but eventually I got used to it.

And while the book has a tied up conclusion, you can see hints of where it is going in the next book, which I can’t wait to read. Storm of Locusts is currently scheduled for the end of April, next year.