The Explorer by James Smythe (book review)
Apparently Hell is other people, so what does that make the complete absence of company? Heaven? Purgatory? Or perhaps a fresh circle of Hell that makes you crave that annoying work colleague to pop up with inappropriate comments? I’ve always been comfortable in my own company but even I would struggle to cope if I was in the same position as the lead character in James Smythe’s new novel.
‘The Explorer’ charts the thoughts of Cormac Easton, a journalist chosen to travel into space and record the lives of the other astronauts on board. As usual, it all goes horribly wrong and the entire crew bar Cormac die, leaving him isolated on the ship with no way of turning it around to head back to Earth.
This book has a little bit of personal resonance with me. As a journalist and someone who always dreamed of going into space, Cormac’s initial journey and application to be part of the mission is completely plausible to me. However, that’s where the similarities end as Smythe takes my dream and turns it into a nightmare.
The action starts off fast and, at one point, I wondered how the story could sustain over the next 250 pages or so but instead it slows right down to a natural pace and gives us an in-depth yet mind-bending look at how Cormac joined the expedition and where it all went wrong.
This is Smythe’s second novel and his first foray into Science Fiction. He makes no secret of literary influences and his punchy no-nonsense prose echoes Asimov. The sense of claustrophobia and isolation comes across well, with the reader left feeling the same isolation as Cormac. His reactions are all perfectly natural, even down to trying to estimate when the fuel gauge will change, just to keep himself sane despite it being a countdown to his own demise.
I also enjoyed his feeling of isolation when the crew was present as he’s the only non-astronaut on the mission and as a former editor once said to me, ‘Journalists are the least and most important people in the room’, leading the crew to tolerate him because they have to.
Given the premise and opening chapters of this book, I wondered if ‘The Explorer’ could give us a satisfactory conclusion, as often books promise much but deliver little. I can honestly say that this does deliver. Gripping me to the very last sentence, the book has a perfectly natural ending and without giving too much away, a logical one at that. Highly recommended reading.
(pub: HarperVoyager.264 small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-00-745675-8)
check out website: www.harpercollins.co.uk