A review by tachyondecay
Interchange: A Dead Mars Novel by Garrick Fincham

adventurous challenging tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Sometimes books fall through the cracks. What can I say? I received a copy of Interchange in exchange for a review. Did it maybe take me a year to read it? Welcome to asking Kara to read things in a timely fashion. Sorry, Garrick Fincham. I’m glad I did finally dust this file off where it was lurking on my Kindle. It’s Mad Max meet The Expanse.

Jude Harrison once led the Clan, a ragtag band of Martian settlers now roaming the planet following the destruction of their home in a brief and brutal war with Earth’s navy. Ousted by her sister, Jude makes a living on the fringes of this fringe. Now she has uncovered an artifact that everyone wants: Earth, the surviving Martians, and even the ghosts of scientists past. She has no choice but to go on the run, but the question becomes, is she running from something or towards it?

Fincham described this book as “dystopian SF with Gothic undertones,” and at first I wasn’t sure about that latter label, but by the end of the book I understood. Interchange combines several recognizable tropes, leaning heavily on an atmosphere of suspense and dread. It is replete with ghosts, both metaphorical and literal, thanks to upload technology. The way this technology works implies a large helping of existential horror. Fincham examines this in some small way through the aforementioned ghosts; however, I wish the book had spent more time, especially when upload to the Interchange and interaction with its long-lived denizens becomes a key plot point for an important character. There is a lot of deep theory of mind stuff that the book hints at but doesn’t explore as fully as I would have liked.

Now, I can probably forgive it for that, as the book is rather busy doing many other things. Though not quite space opera, Interchange takes place at the intersection of political machinations by several parties: a power-hungry general, an overconfident data-analyst-turned-spy, a desperate dictator, and a scheming-yet-stymied scientist. Jude finds herself playing pawn to each of these people at one point or another, and indeed, the main conflict of this book might be summed up not so much as fighting for survival but rather fighting for self-determination.

In that way, I am ambivalent about the ending. On one hand, without going into more details, Jude succeeds in the goal of self-determination. The subtitle of this book is “A Dead Mars Novel,” implying that there could be more stories in the works—and I can see how this setting, and these characters, are ripe for that. On the other hand, the machinations of one character also come into fruition in an interesting way—it’s almost but not quite a subplot; it’s an SF Big Idea Fincham has piggy-backed onto the end of the novel in a showman-like twist that is fine but not quite satisfying, if you know what I mean. It’s very Adrian Tchaikovsky and Alastair Reynolds, which I mean as a compliment but also in the loving frustration I seem to have to reserve only for British SF authors.

Anyway, thematic satisfaction aside, I admit that I had trouble putting Interchange down. Fincham is skilled at the scene-and-sequel format of storytelling. Plenty of action scenes—the book starts with one—lead into a shorter sequel scene of recovery and recapitulation before we going on to the next problem. Jude and Santiago, the two main viewpoint characters, are adequately fleshed out. The supporting cast personalities are clearly established and telegraphed; however, I didn’t end up developing as much sympathy for them as I did for our two main characters, which I found interesting. Like, I care about Jude, but Sam and Esther? Not so much. I wonder if this is an artifact of that dystopian/Gothic mood wherein most of the characters, having been pushed to extremes in this difficult environment, are heightened people, all sharp edges, and therefore more difficult to like.

Interchange, like its title implies, is a meeting of many tropes. From colony spaceships to Mars colonies to uploaded consciousness and everywhere in between, this is a novel steeped in the best that science fiction has to offer. In the hands of some writers, such a cornucopia becomes a liability, jeopardizing unity of plot. Fincham pulls it off and crafts a story of desperation, shifting loyalty, and last-ditch plans to save the world. I recommend.

Originally posted at Kara.Reviews.