When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers. But in space, nothing goes according to plan. The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: no matter what happens, the mission must continue. But as the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiraling towards his own inevitable death… unless he can do something to stop it.
James Smythe landed on my radar through Goodreads giveaways (never won!) and reviews by Michael at Literary Exploration. When I saw The Explorer was on sale through iBooks for only a couple of bucks, I went for it. I’ve since discovered that Smythe is a hard author to find in the United States!
I was very intrigued by The Explorer‘s plot, perhaps because I just read The Martian earlier this year. The basic premise of each is roughly in the same vein, but in many ways completely different. This book is hard to talk about without giving away spoilers! But I can say that I liked the writing style here, kind of reminded me a little bit of Chuck Palahniuk (or maybe that Cormac reminded me of one of Palahniuk’s signature male protagonists). It has some mind-bending elements, and leaves the reader wondering what is real and what is not. Cormac is at times a sympathetic character, and other times really frustrating. I have to say the characterizations of women were sadly underwhelming. They are supposed to be brilliant, kick-ass, adventuresome scientists! Instead we get one-dimensional stereotypes. Meh.
If you’re looking for lots of action-action, you’ll probably be disappointed. Also, I can’t say that the science makes 100% sense all the time—the stopping/starting of the ship and how the gravity works with that confused me, among a few other things. But I’m no expert and not super familiar with this genre, so I was able to suspend my disbelief through most of the story. The Explorer is more of a psychological suspense, delving into the human psyche facing inevitable death, fear, the unknown, regrets, depression. Smythe did a great job conveying the soul-crushing, desolate isolation that Cormac deals with in deep space (which I missed and was looking for in The Martian).
I’d definitely be interested in reading more James Smythe work in the future!
Read from May 13 to 16, 2014.