A review of The Explorer, by James Smythe
The first book in author James Smythe’s Anomaly Quartet, The Explorer is a psychological horror set in space, reminiscent of films such as Sunshine (2007) and Moon (2009).
Funded by a private corporation, the mission is dedicated to inspiration. This will be the first manned flight into an uncharted area of space, further than anyone has ever travelled before, and all of mankind will be watching. To make sure the trip is immortalised, the crew includes a journalist, Cormac Easton, who is dedicated to reporting on events as they happen.
But as the mission progresses, things start to go wrong and the crew begin to die, one by one, until Cormac is the only one left. As he struggles to find a way back to Earth, he makes a horrifying discovery about the true nature of the mission.
I’m not usually a fan of science fiction novels, but this is a character driven story that happens to be set in space, which will also appeal to those who prefer thrillers or more literary work.
The reader is quickly absorbed into Cormac’s world, but all is not as it seems. It’s difficult to adequately discuss some of the themes here without giving away the plot (believe me; you don’t want this ruined by spoilers). This is a story of layers; as each one is peeled back, something a little more shocking is revealed and another layer of Cormac’s humanity is stripped away, forcing him to become a different person, shaped by the extreme nature of his situation.
But even from the beginning Cormac is a conflicted character and something of an unreliable narrator. He spends much of the novel dwelling on his troubled relationship with his wife, who has been sidelined by his burning desire to join the space programme, essentially leaving her behind on Earth. However, it isn’t until much further into the book that we discover another element to the story, which Cormac has failed to reveal. He can’t see it, but his enthusiastic pursuit of a place on the journey into space only renders everything else in his life meaningless.
Despite this, it’s easy to feel sorry for Cormac. He’s an everyman character undertaking a voyage of discovery; a poster boy for humanity. As events take a nasty turn, he deals with them as best he can, helping the other crew members despite their increasingly negative attitude towards him. It is only as the story unfolds that we come to understand just what inspired that change in sentiment, and it is something Cormac doesn’t realise until it is too late.
The need for exploration, at whatever cost, is something of a theme. Just as Cormac’s desire to take part in the mission eclipses everything else in his life, the need of the corporation to carry out a secret act of discovery helps put the crew in jeopardy.
Throughout the book, there is a sense of impending doom, highlighted by the persistent warning light that flashes on the ship’s control panel for ‘Anomaly 250480’. Alone, the most inexperienced member of the crew, Cormac has no idea what it means, nor can he find any mention of it in the manuals.
This novel is a chilling exploration of space travel that plays with our fears of the unknown and the idea that there might just be someone else out there. Definitely worth reading.
Watch out for my review of the sequel, The Echo, coming soon!
Find out more about the book:
The Explorer on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Explorer on Goodreads