by Peter Cawdron


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328834553
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/12/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 510,345
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

PETER CAWDRON is an Australian science fiction writer and author of numerous novels. He lives in Queensland, Australia.

Read an Excerpt



I’m giddy with rice wine.

“Okay, deal the cards again,” James says, circling his hand around the table. “I get this. I can fool the landlord.”

“It is dou di zhu,” Su-shun replies. “ ‘Fight the landlord,’ not ‘fool.’ ”

I laugh as Jianyu pours me another tiny glass. “Are you trying to get me drunk?” I ask.

Jianyu replies, but I can’t hear him over the noise of the card game and James calling out, “To fool is to fight without being seen, my friend. To fool is as good as a fight. Sometimes, it’s better.”

“Sometimes it is,” Su-shun admits, dealing cards around the table.

Jianyu smiles at me and then turns to James, saying, “You sound like Sun Tzu in The Art of War.”

“Did he say that?” James asks with innocence in his voice.

“No,” Su-shun replies, and everyone bursts out laughing.

“You’ve had too much to drink,” I say to James, but I’m the one swaying under the influence of alcohol in the light Martian gravity. I hold on to the edge of the table with one hand, feeling as though I could float away. The rest of the Chinese crew gather around, yelling and placing bets ​— ​speaking so fast I find it hard to believe anyone can follow the conversation. All I can tell is that there’s a lot of excitement around James and his grossly misplaced bravado, with the Chinese betting both for and against him, but I suspect it’s mostly against.

Like smoke in some seedy Shanghai restaurant, water vapor drifts around us, rising up from humidifiers wafting homemade incense throughout the Chinese module. I love the ambience. For a Midwestern girl like me, immersing myself in another culture is as intoxicating as alcohol, and I find myself torn between staying and leaving. I’ve got thirty kilos of rock samples to sift through tomorrow ​— ​that’s easily eight to ten hours of work.

“We should be going,” I say, tapping James on the shoulder and pointing at the digital clock on the wall. It’s showing 12:00 a.m., but the seconds counter has gone well beyond 60 ​— ​it’s at 2,344 and climbing. I forget exactly how many seconds there are in the Martian time-slip, but a day on Mars is roughly forty minutes longer than it is on Earth, so our clocks are set to pause for the best part of an hour from 12:00 to 12:01. In theory, it means we can sleep in an extra half hour or so each day, but in practice, that gets channeled into our work. Our biological clocks are like those of drifters constantly traveling across time zones. The physiological effect is like driving around the world once a month ​— ​which is more crazy than it seems: around halfway through the month, noon starts to feel like midnight. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.

“Come on, Liz! I’m about to clean them out.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” I say, gesturing toward the hatch leading out of the module. “Let’s go.”

Su-shun gives me a look like he’s a cat with a mouse, giving James just enough freedom before swatting at him again with long, sharp claws. He smiles behind narrow, thin eyes. He’s loving this.

I look to Jianyu, trying to get his attention as he moves behind James, but he’s caught up in the fun.

Yelling echoes through the module. It’s astonishingly loud inside the narrow, tubular mod. It’s sometimes difficult to remember we’re on another planet, millions of miles from home. We could be in a simulator on Earth, although things never got this wild back there. With no instructors critiquing our actions, life is a lot more free on Mars ​— ​or as free as it can be living inside a tin can.

Jianyu puts some money down on James, which surprises me ​— ​although “money” is too strong a term. Poker chips act as pseudocurrency in the informal economy that exists within the colony. Most people barter for anything they want beyond the basics, but chips are sometimes exchanged as well.

The sweet smell of spiced rice floats through the air. Thin strips of faux meat sizzle in a wok as the chef constantly turns over a succulent Asian dish, adding a small ladle of water every few seconds, causing steam to billow into the overly humid air. The chef is talking as rapidly as everyone else, though to whom I don’t know ​— ​I’m not sure anyone’s listening. Although the meal smells delicious, I can’t imagine the crew wanting to eat at what equates to almost 1:00 a.m., but for the Chinese, the party is just getting started.

I love the Chinese mod. Technically, it’s a mirror image of our own module, yet the Chinese have made it into a home. Somehow, they’ve transformed their mod into a back alley in Guangzhou ​— ​vibrant and full of life. Clothes hang from a line running across the back of the communal room, which is something Connor would never allow in the U.S. module. To my mind, the pieces of clothing act as pendants, colorful flags, festive decorations. I doubt anyone here gives them a second thought. They’re a touch of life on Earth being transplanted on Mars.

“You be the landlord,” Su-shun yells, pointing at James as though he were fingering a murderer in a lineup.

“Oh, no, no, no, my friend,” James says, wagging his finger. “I see what you’re trying to do. You be the landlord!” Laughter erupts from around the crowded table.

Jianyu says, “Come on, Liz. Throw some chips into the pot.” His hand runs down the back of my arm. Jianyu steps around me, but his hand lingers just long enough to express tenderness. He’s normally guarded about our relationship. I don’t think he’s embarrassed about dating a foreigner, or intentionally secretive, he’s just private about his feelings, and that’s fine with me. Rural Chinese modesty is quaint to someone who lived in downtown Chicago for six years. Tonight, though, the rice wine is going to his head, and he sneaks a kiss on my cheek, adding, “You know you want to.”

“No way,” I say, laughing more at his impetuous public kiss than anything he said, yet I’m swept up in the euphoria. It’s no longer a question of staying or leaving, but of betting or continuing to fiddle with the chips in my pocket. I’m tired. I performed an eight-hour surface op earlier today. My body yearns for bed, but my heart loves the explosion of life around me.

“Ah, ha ha,” Su-shun says, this time pointing at me. “She’s afraid he will lose!”

“She’s too smart,” Jianyu replies, winking at me, and more poker chips find themselves cast onto the pile in the middle of the table. How anyone keeps track of what’s been bet and by whom, I have no idea, but the system seems to work. Deep down, I suspect no one really cares. The chips are like gold on a games night like this, even though they’re little more than a novelty.

There are five players seated at the round dining table, with two dozen others cramped around them, all trying to get a good vantage point. That’s pretty much everyone in the Chinese mod, but the commotion within the module gives the impression there are hundreds of people bustling through a crowded market.

Su-shun finishes dealing to the players, but before anyone can pick up their cards, Wen storms over, pulling people away so she can get to the table.

“Out. Out. Out!” she yells over the ruckus, reaching in and scooping up two piles of cards. “Americans must leave.”

“What?” Su-shun has a look of disbelief on his face.

“You leave now!” Wen yells, looking me in the eye. This is a shift in persona. There’s no banter, no friendly rivalry. I see anger in her eyes.

“James,” I say, pulling on his shoulder. “We need to go.”

“What? No way. I’ve got chips in that pot!”

Wen doesn’t bother collecting the other cards. It’s enough to simply toss them from the table. The other players are incensed.

“Leave!” she yells.

Wen doesn’t stop with the cards. With a bat of her hand, the chips are scattered across the table. In the low Martian gravity, they skim through the air and bounce over the floor of the module. We’ve been on Mars for nine months building the main base, but the sight of objects being propelled under Martian gravity never gets old. It’s jarring to see physical things obeying a rate other than the 1 g in which we were raised. It’s as though the universe has betrayed us, and life on Mars never feels quite right.

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Retrograde 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well done. Exciting plot. Could not put this down.
Anonymous 9 months ago
I felt the points of view of the characters in the book were steeped in an idealism, and not the reality of their stituation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author's insights about Mars make it all the more real. The angle taken for the storyline is timely and not necessarily in a political way. I enjoyed the setting and the thought put into it as it made for a richer storytelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good character development and intriguing science, made up for a plot development that was sluggish at times. Some of the characters' introspection got tedious and overly drawn out but these were small bumps in an otherwise fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little brainy at times but an enjoyable book.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
An international colony has been started on Mars. They have their own unique issues because of the environment they are now living in. They have a plan for all kinds of trouble but they never thought about trouble from Earth. When a war breaks out on Earth and a desperately needed supply goes missing things start breaking down fast on the Mars colony. This is a great story. There is a lot of detail in it which makes it feel like you are right there. I can imagine all the technology being used and all the details. You have a variety of characters that make this colony feel practical and real. But the real kicker is if they can work together for survival while Earth has gone to war. There is a lot of what if’s added into the mix when a supply run disappears, or does it. I love the whole concept of the story, there were a couple twists that threw me off. I had no idea they were even coming. My only complaint is that the ending felt rushed. I think there could have been some pages added in that explained more. Over all I really enjoyed this story. I will be keeping my eyes open for other books from Peter Cawdron. I received Retrograde from the author for free. This has in no way influenced my opinion of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago