I read this novel about 3 years ago. Here's what I remember:

  • The protagonist is an American woman living in an underground Mars colony populated by colonists from several nations.
  • The protagonist's boyfriend is a Chinese man also living in the colony.
  • The colony's AI deceives the colonists into believing that a disaster (world war?) has happened on Earth, stranding them.
  • The protagonist disables the AI, but not before it kills her boyfriend. The AI is able to impersonate the boyfriend, causing conflicting emotions for the protagonist.
  • I think the novel's events take place while Earth and Mars are at maximum distance from each other.
  • The novel is fairly realistic and includes a lot of details about the practical difficulties of living on Mars such as cosmic rays and fine dust that gets into everything.
  • I think the author is a woman(?).

I enjoyed this novel and would like to find other works by the same author.


2 Answers 2


This sounds like Before Mars by Emma Newman, published in 2018 so it fits your time frame and it is by a woman.

The protagonist is Anna Kubrin who is a geologist, and an amateur artist. She goes to the Mars colony on what should be a routine posting but things get strange very quickly. She starts finding notes to herself that she doesn't remember writing and when she unpacks her things after arriving she finds her wedding ring is a fake.

The AI is called Principia and is referred to throughout the novel by the pronoun ze. The AI severs communications with Earth and tells the colonists:

“On the morning of December thirteenth, shortly after one p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, three thermonuclear missiles were fired from the United States of America, targeting three key locations in GaborCorp’s R and D divisions in Andalusia, Madrid and Manchester, followed shortly by a second wave targeting key GaborCorp facilities in France, triggering a full-scale nuclear retaliation from the European and Noropean gov-corps in which one thousand five hundred missiles carrying a total of over five hundred nuclear warheads were launched. We lost communications with Earth shortly afterward. Initial estimates of deaths caused by the first strikes in Europe and Norope are over eight million.

Anna's boyfriend on the base is Alven, but I don't remember Alven being killed.

The big reveal at the end of the novel is:

There is a second secret colony called Segundus that Anna discovers by accident when she is out looking for landscapes to paint. The base chief Dr. Arnolfini uses psychoactive drugs on Anna to supress het memory of the secret base and that causes all the weird events Anna experiences. Arnolfini instructs the AI to sever connections with Earth and broadcast the false news of the nuclear war.

  • 1
    Calling an AI ze somehow suggest it has been written by Siemens. Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 9:38
  • There are several similarities between Before Mars and the novel I'm trying to remember, but I'm pretty sure it's not Before Mars. Some of the details you gave don't ring true; I don't think the protagonist was an artist and I'm certain her boyfriend was Chinese with a name much different from Alven. More importantly, the rogue AI acted alone and not at the direction of the base chief.
    – gasbag_1
    Commented Jan 24, 2021 at 22:41

By sheer chance I happened upon this book at the library last weekend:

Retrograde by Peter Cawdron

Front cover of Retrograde

Mankind has long dreamed of reaching out to live on other planets, and with the establishment of the Mars Endeavour colony, that dream has become reality. The fledgling colony consists of 120 scientists, astronauts, medical staff, and engineers. Buried deep underground, they’re protected from the harsh radiation that sterilizes the surface of the planet. The colony is prepared for every eventuality except one—what happens when disaster strikes Earth?

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