cover image Retrograde


Peter Cawdron. HMH/Adams, $24 (256p) ISBN 978-1-328-83455-3

Post-apocalyptic disaster meets fractured utopian space exploration in this terrifying tale, which Cawdron (Anomaly) sets in a scientific outpost on Mars. Geologist Liz inhabits one of four subterranean modules built through massive cooperation among earth’s space agencies. Hazy news of a widespread nuclear war back home sends the astronauts into paranoid seclusion. Liz and few others overly optimistically urge their colleagues to think like Martians and share resources and information. When the Russians and Chinese accuse the Americans of lying about a supply mission, Liz becomes an eager double agent spurred on by her attachment to cold scientific rigor (which oddly clashes with her strong feelings for her friends and lover and her unrestrained emotional responses to each unfolding trauma). Increasing indications of sabotage around the base sow more distrust and suspicion until it becomes clear that a threatening artificial intelligence is setting humans against themselves. The colony’s absolute reliance on technology amplifies the stakes of this fight. Readers craving scientific realism will appreciate the frequent narrative interruptions that provide details on what a Martian colony would actually need, including radiation protection and divisions of labor. This tense cat and mouse game plays off fears of self-aware computers to satisfying result. (Sept.)