THE EXPLORER by James  Smythe


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Space disaster yarn that bears only a nominal resemblance to science fiction, from the author of The Testimony (2012).

A group of highly trained astronauts journey into the farthest reaches of our—or possibly another, it isn’t clear which—solar system. Among them is ambitious journalist and first-person narrator Cormac Easton, selected to document the trip. When they emerge from hypersleep, they discover the captain dead, the apparent cause a malfunction in his supposedly fail-safe sleep pod. The mission must continue, but one by one, each of the astronauts perishes in a series of bizarre incidents until Cormac is alone, with no means to turn the vessel around, a rapidly dwindling fuel supply and only a single enigmatic error message for company. So much for part one. The rest resembles a sort of highly embellished instant replay with flashbacks, bringing the characters to life and filling in the details via an imaginative literary (but not science fictional) device. Unfortunately, the devil’s in the details. It’s a voyage to nowhere, with no defined goals, for which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has stumped up a bunch of money without expecting any return on its investment. Smythe’s concept of space travel seems to be something like a giant locomotive sliding through space on invisible rails, so that if you turn the engines off and gently apply the brakes, the ship will coast to a stop. If you step outside while the ship’s in motion, you’ll be torn off and flung away into space. While the engines are on, there’s no gravity; turn them off, and gravity reappears with a bang. A couple of references to “warp” merely compound the confusion.

Readers looking for character-driven fiction and prepared to forgive the ridiculous setting will be gratified; science fiction fans will not.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-222941-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2012


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