by James Smythe
Review by Mel Jacob
Harper Voyager Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062229410
Date: 02 January 2013 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
James Smythe has written a well structured literary science fiction novel exploring one manís mind and life as he journeys far into space in The Explorer. In subject, it owes much to 2001 minus the malfunctioning computer. In structure, it reflects Joyce Carol Oates Black Water.
Part One tells the story and sets up an unreliable protagonist. Part Two relates story in a fuller form and fleshes out events and other crew members. Part Three provides yet another view of events.
Six people are selected to explore space and report back their findings: Alden the pilot, Guy, Quinn, Emmy, the medical officer, and Wanda, the dogsbody. Cormac Easton, a journalist, is to interview the crew and document the voyage. They are to look for and inform Earth of anomalies and any potential dangers they encounter.
When the crew begins to awake from stasis, they discover their dead captain. Then, as the voyage progresses, divergent views emerge among the crew, and, gradually, one after another they die until only Cormac remains. He continues to write in his journal and send his reports back to Ground Control. No one answers.
As noted in Part One, the crew, except for Cormac are dead or in long term stasis. Exactly how they died is gradually revealed, but with an unreliable narrator, the reader can not be sure of the cause. Even the natures of the crew members are viewed through this same filter.
Early reviews praise the novel highly. It is by nature claustrophobic, and, like an onion, layers of personality and events are peeled away until Cormac, the narrator is fully revealed. However, some readers may dislike the bleakness and personality disintegration. Too, all the action takes place inside the space ship or on short excursions on tethers. Despite the vastness of the surrounding space, the setting is constrained.
Readers interested in psychology and the effect of isolation on a person may find this an interesting read. It is not an action adventure, but more of an exploration of the mind and personality when subjected to a certainty of death long before one would normally expect to die. For me, it was less than compelling and covered old ground already well explored by others.