Saturday, 29 March 2014
The Explorer by James Smythe
You might think that Cormac Easton is one hell of a lucky guy. Plucked from his day job as a journalist to accompany the cream of the world's crop on the first ever manned mission into deep space, his role is to document their experiences so that they can be recorded in the history books forever. But when Cormac finds himself completely alone on a malfunctioning spacecraft, the rest of the crew dead, it seems like his luck has run out.
Without wanting to begin a review with lazy comparisons, I'm sure anybody who has watched any classic 'lost in space' type movies such as Alien can imagine the generally unsettling atmosphere that pervades this novel. But for a book with such a limited cast of characters and a restricted, claustrophobic setting, the plot is incredibly intricate and Smythe works lots of jiggery-pokery with different timelines flitting back and forth that means you really have to pay attention. The story also bears striking similarity to the more recent film, Moon, sharing its insight into the psyche of men who find themselves in the most extreme isolation. It gave me lots of food for reflection long after I had put the book down.
There was a lot to be impressed by in this book but overall I found something to be lacking and it has really been niggling at me to try and put my finger on what exactly was wrong. I think I found Cormac himself to be quite difficult to read about. I don't think he is supposed to be a particularly likeable protagonist, and I think at least some of his cold and apathetic nature is intentional on the part of the author. He almost reminded me of the Meursault character in Camus' L'étranger - you know, this guy who doesn't react to life's tragedies in the impassioned way that societal norms would have you expect, and is consequently regarded with suspicion by many. In any case, I found his apparent impassivity to the traumatic events he experiences was difficult to believe - which wouldn't be quite so much of a barrier to my enjoyment if it wasn't that the whole premise of the novel means we are subjected to nothing but Cormac's internal monologue for most of the book.
Having said all that, my overall impression of The Explorer was very good - it's always a pleasure to read something so unique and thought-provoking. The novel's ending was completely unexpected and I quite literally cannot even begin to imagine where this story is going to go next. I'm really excited to read more by James Smythe as he seems to be shaping up to be one of our most interesting (and most prolific!) creative minds at the moment. Every time I read the blurb for one of his novels I am struck by his unique ideas. Do any of you have any recommendations of which of his books I should try next?