Upon reading the blurb for K.A. Hough’s Ground Control, I was curious. While the blurb mentions a one-way mission to Mars and an unknown threat that lead character Sarah must confront, it also focuses a lot on Sarah’s history with a focus on her life and events. It was clear that while this book is science fiction, it would not be a simple tale of a squad of space explorers flying to Mars, then opening fire on the local Martians with a vague excuse as to why humans are slaughtering the dreaded “other.”
When I started reading the book itself, I found that the tone of Hough’s story perfectly matches that of the blurb. If you pick up a science fiction story to see people shooting faceless enemies, those faceless enemies returning fire, and the situation constantly escalating into all-out war, you will no doubt find Ground Control disappointing. But if you enjoy science fiction tales that are more contained, more insular, and more a study of a protagonist that finds themself in this situation, you will find that there is a lot to love.
Ground Control opens with a conversation between Sarah and her husband, Grant. A world-renowned biologist, Grant has been invited on a mission to Mars, where he would undertake horticultural studies to enable the growing Mars colony to thrive. As this is a one-way mission, Sarah needs to make a decision: Come along for the ride, bringing their children, Maggie and Jack along, or refuse, culminating in divorce and their children never seeing their father again. While it’s no spoiler (as long as you’ve read the blurb, and the blurb is included at the top of this review) to say that Sarah chooses to take the kids and accompany Grant to Mars, Hough does a brilliant job of getting into Sarah’s head, examining her life and what she will be leaving behind.
As a result of this, however, Ground Control is paced slowly, with it taking a number of chapters for the family, and particularly, Sarah, to come to terms with the decision and wrestle with the choice she has made. While a lot of stories that promise space adventure take a long time to get to said space adventure flail, Hough’s debut novel is all the stronger for it. At its core, this is not a story about a family traveling to Mars never to return again; it is a story about Sarah dealing with the decision she has made to leave her old life behind and take a drastic turn into the unknown.
At 342 pages (or an estimated 268 in the eBook version), Ground Control is not a quick book to read. While not overly dense, I found myself poring over the text, soaking up Hough’s words, enjoying the carefully structured pace of the book, and all the prose within. Right on the halfway mark of the book, there is a major plot twist that changes the path of the story, bringing more heart to it, and really forcing the reader to empathise with the lead character.
This story is very much Sarah’s. On a ship containing about two thousand passengers, including Grant, Maggie, and Jack, as well as a number of friends and acquaintances that Sarah has made, as well as a number of friends left back on Earth, Sarah remains the sole point of view character in the novel. There is not a single scene in Ground Control that doesn’t feature Sarah and her thoughts about the situation at hand. While many characters only pop up occasionally, they don’t feel underutilised at all—in fact, they are all well-rounded—and serve to strengthen Sarah’s story beautifully.
As the threat pushing the mission in jeopardy reveals itself, the story kicks things up a notch, with more focus spent on trying to save the day. This flows brilliantly from the earlier chapters while maintaining the level of introspection that the reader has become accustomed to.
Hough seems to have a perfect grasp of the science involved in the book. While I don’t have the scientific credentials to say for certain if there are any inaccuracies in the science or not, everything written about the journey sounds feasible, with not a single flourish breaking my suspension of disbelief.In Hough’s debut novel, the author has crafted a gripping, introspective tale that puts you in the lead character’s shoes, making you feel for her and the situation she now finds herself in. Ground Control is an absolutely fantastic read, and I am excited to see what the author does next.
She pinged their mothers to let them know they’d arrived safely, then hesitated for only a minute before pinging Katriahna, too. I’m needed in the lab. I can’t teach anymore for a while. It took everything she had to not add, Bitch. There. Let her think what she wanted.Ground Control, Chapter 35
Ground Control was provided by the author for the purposes of an honest review.
Ground Control is available in both physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).
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