Imagine blasting off on a trip to Mars—one of the first two humans to set up a colony there, unable ever to return to Earth—and suddenly you realize that you actually yearn to go back home after all. In his short novel, One Way Trip, Stephen M. Braund follows Martin, a young astronaut, on exactly this journey, with all its implications. This bittersweet story of love and loss takes the reader back and forth between Martin’s childhood, where he meets Gwen, his true love and the one who inspired his love of the stars, and his adulthood, where he has lost Gwen forever and must aim for the stars without her. It’s hard for the reader to imagine that Martin can forge a new life successfully, yet Braund makes us care about him and root for him to succeed.
Neither of the two courageous men who will establish this Mars colony are emotionally whole, despite how level-headed and firm in their commitment they seem at first. It’s as though both Martin and his companion, Jomo, with tragedies and serious losses in their past, must lose even the very planet that shaped them before they can truly face up to and deal with the lives they lived there. Talk about needing to get perspective!
Braund carefully but convincingly reveals the details of both Martin’s and Gwen’s lives as we gradually come to understand what led both of them to the places they now occupy, one on Mars and one on Earth. And as more of the truth comes out, it’s disconcerting to discover that Martin is perhaps more to blame for this vast gap between them than he appeared at first; we don’t want to think that this isolation, loneliness, and loss might in any way be something he “deserves.”
But as the story moves through the years, where Martin and Jomo have gradually been joined by other scientists and have worked through the beginnings of a colony that slowly starts to thrive, we begin to sense that the griefs of the past may finally have settled into a sense of peace. And in the end, this very long journey of loss may result in unexpected fulfillment.
The only extra insight I would have wanted from this book would have involved some details about the colony itself—how it really worked and how the people created a viable place to live on another planet. But of course, that’s mainly because I love the stars and the thought of venturing out into them as much as Martin and Gwen do.
But Braund is primarily interested in the very human story and the motivations behind this launching into the astronomical unknown. He captures the depths of Martin’s and Gwen’s (and even Jomo’s) emotional work in a surprisingly deep and insightful way, considering that this is not a long book. He literally demonstrates that there is no place distant enough to allow anyone to flee the inner work they must do in order to heal; their past will always follow them, wherever they go.
This is a story that is as moving and insightful on Mars as it has ever been on Earth.