If you like your science-fiction as down-to-earth (well, down-to-Mars in this case) as possible, then you’ll appreciate the harsh, nuts and bolts integrity of local author Simon Morden’s latest novel. No flights of fancy here, but a gritty imagining of the first landing on the Red Planet, made all the grittier by the slow-building tension of the plot. Before it’s worth risking any expensively trained “real” astronauts, a functioning survival station needs to be established. Cheaper than robots, a crew of convicted criminals is recruited to set this up. No sooner do they land, however, than the deaths begin and stoic hero Frank has to slowly unravel the deeply sinister from what’s just acutely dangerous. Strained at best, interaction between distrustful and hostile crew-mates shifts further out of kilter as every successful effort seems to bring down another disaster – and all this in bulky space-suits and diminished gravity. Transcripts from the project’s planning phase open each chapter, giving the reader an increasingly worrying background withheld from the characters, but it’s the gripping sense of believable physical experience in a wholly alien landscape that grabs the attention and brings the writing to vivid life. Who knew that herby steamed fish would be on the Martian menu?