Genre : Science Fiction
Publisher : Ace
Length : 352 pages
Format : Ebook
Rating : 4 stars
Publication Date : April 17th 2018
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 She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.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
Anna Kubrin’s dream was to go to Mars. From the moment she discovered her passion for rocks and history, she knew she wanted to become a geologist. However, she didn’t expect that she would earn her golden ticket to Mars because of her paintings and not because of her qualifications as a geologist. As it happens, the husband of her boss is a fan of her art and he wants her to paint Mars with material taken from the red planet. As crazy as it might be, Anna cannot say no to this out of the blue opportunity and decides to drop everything for her dream.
However, the moment Anna arrives to Mars, she knows something isn’t right. She takes an immediate dislike to the station psychologist and the feeling isn’t eased when she finds a handwritten note in her bedroom warning her not to trust the woman. The thing is, Anna is sure she’s the one who wrote the note. It doesn’t help that some of her possessions are missing from her cargo. But how is this possible when she just arrived?
Before Mars is the third book in the Planetfall series but like the other books, it can be read as a standalone story. However, I think that if you want to really understand everything in this story, reading After Atlas first would help. I personally haven’t read the first book Planetfall and I understood everything just fine. I liked After Atlas when I read it two years ago but I didn’t find it very memorable. It had interesting ideas but I found the story pretty forgettable (except the ending but again, I mostly forgot about it until I was reminded of it during Before Mars).
Let’s just say that, even if I was intrigued by the world, I probably wouldn’t have continued with this series if Before Mars hadn’t been shortlisted for the BSFA. I decided to read this year’s shortlist because I was very curious about the different titles and I’m glad I decided to read Before Mars. It’s very different from After Atlas and it worked a lot better for me. I was immediately pulled in: I started reading this on a train and I almost missed my stop. And I read this book in three days.
I loved the tension in this book, the mystery elements were introduced early on. When Anna discovers the warning message in her bedroom written by her hand, I knew I was in for a ride. I loved the almost claustrophobic atmosphere of this book: Anna is confined with four people and she doesn’t know if she can trust any of them. She cannot even trust the station’s AI because its only interest is to protect Gorb Corp, not the actual people on the planet. She also questions why she was even sent to Mars in the first place, it surely wasn’t because of her job as a geologist but, sending her on an another planet just to paint seems like a huge waste of money.
However, Anna herself is unreliable. She’s haunted by disturbing events that happening during her childhood involving her father. She knows that her decision to go to Mars wasn’t just motivated by science and her love of rocks and art. She’s fleeing her family and her responsabilities back on Earth: a daughter she doesn’t know how to love, an overbearing husband, a sister who doesn’t want to talk to her anymore and a father she’ll never be able to face again.
I loved how this book discussed motherhood and pregnancy can affect somebody. Anna is without a doubt suffering from post natal depression and she feels horrible because of it. On Earth, each time she talks about her struggles, people found her heartless and abnormal. Her husband doesn’t try to understand her either. Her lab needs money to run and she doesn’t know where to find the funding to keep it afloat. Her only escape is her art and, when she’s presented with a chance to run away on another planet entirely, she takes it.
Anna is not a particularly likeable character, she can appear selfish and self-centered in many ways but I could always understand her. She’s struggling to adapt in this unfamiliar environment and she doesn’t know if she can trust herself. I found the balance between Anna’s own selfdoubt and the weird things happening on the station thrilling. At various points, I thought Anna was delusional just to change my mind a few paragraphs later.
If I had to complain about something though, it would be that I didn’t think this book needed an epilogue. If you read the book, please tell me if you had the same issue, personally I had a hard time suspending my disbelief during the last scene. It felt completely unbelievable and I don’t think it added anything to the story. I would have enjoyed the story better without it.
Still, I enjoyed this book a lot and I would highly recommend it.