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The Explorer Paperback – 29 Aug 2013

3.5 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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£8.99 FREE Delivery in the UK on orders with at least £10 of books. Only 11 left in stock (more on the way). Dispatched from and sold by Amazon. Gift-wrap available.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager (29 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000745676X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007456765
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

‘It's like an episode of Star Trek written by JM Coetzee’ Guardian

‘The Explorer has the dreamlike detachment of an Ishiguro novel’ Financial Times

‘Beautifully written, creepy as hell. The Explorer is as clever in its unravelling as it is breathlessly claustrophobic’ Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls

‘As you marvel at this twist-laden deep-space exploration thriller, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with Duncan Jones’ film Moon’ Shortlist

‘A fascinating character study that could only exist in a science-fictional world’ io9.com

'The SF novel everyone should read' Foyles

About the Author

James Smythe is the winner of the Wales Fiction Book of the Year 2013 and shortlisted nominee for the Arthur C. Clarke Award 2014. He is the author of the Anomaly Quartet which includes The Explorer and The Echo. James currently lives in London and teaches creative writing. Twitter @jpsmythe


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's really difficult to explain what's so great about this book without telling you the entire concept. It's about a spaceship hurtling in to deep space to inspire mankind, and how our storyteller, Cormac, quickly finds himself alone as the last survivor. So, as you can guess, it's not all lightsabers and one-liners - if anything, it has more in common with 'Moon', starring Sam Rockwell. It's meditative, contemplative, and takes you on a journey through Cormac's desperation, acceptance of his fate, even redemption, perhaps. Not for everyone, then, but if you stick with it, it'll definitely get inside your head and stay there.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is my second review of this book. When the author contacted me about the review (justifiably, perhaps, because my tone was quite negative, and I'd stopped reading the book at 37%), I removed the review and said I'd write another once I'd finished the book. Here it is.

Just to make clear: I'm also a science fiction author. I rarely write negative reviews (I can only think of two times I've done that, among scores of positive ones) because being a writer is hard enough. However, given that Smythe is published by HarperCollins, given that I'm a paying customer, and given that writers are not in competition, I feel I have the right to review it.

So: My opinion of the book has improved since I wrote my original review. If you're struggling with it too, you should consider pushing on, because much of the good (i.e. insightful/interesting) material comes towards the end of the book.

Things I liked: The book has a nicely claustrophobic air; the major plot element (which I won't reveal) is interesting.

Things I liked less:

- The prose style. In my earlier review, I called this 'first draft', which was probably unfair. I would suggest that you read an extract of the book and see what you think of it; if you don't like the style, it will probably interfere fatally with your enjoyment of the book.

- The science. For reasons I can't quite be sure about, the science (i) as understood by the protagonist and (ii) as described by him is inaccurate. For example, the hull gets hotter as the ship passes through a vacuum, where the heat-induced friction would be minimal; the ship seems to lose forward motion when its engines are stopped; communications with Earth are described sometimes with a lag and sometimes without.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Explorer is a book that stays with you.

It starts with the disaster having occurred; the crew of an exploration mission to space are dead, apart from our protagonist, and he's not much of an astronaut. It slowly adds in the background to the mission as he journals how the rest of the doomed mission continues, to the inevitable end. This sometimes goes a little slowly, and Cormac, the survivor (and The Explorer) is not always the easiest person to get along with. As the novel continues, though, he certainly gets hold of you and you'll feel all manner of emotions towards him, whether they be anger, frustration, sympathy or, ultimately, pity.

Just as the start of the book was the middle of the crisis, the end of it all is only the middle of the book, and in some ways the beginning of everything. In this latter half, Smythe shows us how the mission went wrong, why, and more and more of the psyche of our unreliable narrator (who, to be fair to him, is not always unreliable on purpose!). It also gets a bit weird, but in a good way.

There were points in this book where I wondered whether or not I was actually enjoying it, but it's a book that really stays with you. The reveals that come at you throughout the latter half are fascinating and a a well-performed take on a sometimes popular SF trope. Yet even when it seems like you're on familiar ground, there is always a way that the rug can be, if not pulled out from under you, then at least slightly twisted.

I was torn between 4 and 5 stars, and had I reviewed it right after finishing the book, it would possibly have been 4.
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Format: Paperback
VAST SPOILERS FOLLOW

The journey lies at the heart of science fiction, one of the few pieces of connective tissue that transcends medium. Star Trek’s original name was Wagon Train To The Stars, novelists like Iain M Banks and Neal Asher experiment constantly with the ways society can be pushed to evolve as we move out to other worlds, every given SF action movie is either about the journey to understanding or to the final punch up with the bad guy, which usually involves the thing we’ve just understood exploding in the background. You can even apply it to games, where everything from Dead Space 3 to It Came From Outer Space revolves around the Scylla and Charybdis of understanding the universe and not being driven mad by that understanding. The journey is the story and the story is always about the journey. Or to put it as Battlestar Galactica so succinctly, and chillingly did; All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

The Explorer, by James Smythe embraces both the journey and the repetition. The journey, here is one of the crew of the Ishiguro, a team of scientists and pilots, as well as a blogger, who have been detailed to go out as far as they possibly can, to plant a flag for humanity at the furthest point of egress out of the solar system and then return home. The trip is a challenge, a symbol, a dare to the rest of history to rise to the Ishiguro’s achievement and surpass it. To boldly go.
The trip is one way. The trip is a sacrifice, a group of astronauts placed on a celestial altar, a new pseudo pantheon to stand next to the poor benighted first cosmonauts, the crew of Apollo 1, the crew of STS-26 and the crew of STS-107. A group of people standing, smiling, around a mission patch. A floating tomb, hurtling along out into the dark.
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