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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memserising, haunting sci-fi
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',...
Published 18 months ago by Russell Smith

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent read if you fancy something a little dark and different
This is a book based on an interesting premise. The main character, Cormac, is a journalist who joins the crew of an expedition heading deeper into space than anyone has ever been. As the expedition progresses, the other members of the crew die so Cormac is left alone, the book charting his time in space and his growing suspicion that something about the expedition is...
Published 23 months ago by lmhh


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric, claustrophobic and dark, chilly SF - a wonderful novel, 20 Dec 2012
By 
Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Explorer (Kindle Edition)
One of the outstanding book memories of my 2012 is James Smythe's The Testimony - a technothriller built upon an extraordinarily intriguing and exciting concept and executed in the most original manner. Hot on its flaming heels is The Explorer, a science fiction novel that is set worlds away from The Testimony but is still packed with the same atmospheric oomph. This time, though, we are in space and it is at its most claustrophobic and dark.

Cormac Easton is a journalist who happens to be an astronaut. Put into space without knowing much about the science, Cormac's task is to record the voyage for audiences at home during these days when space exploration has to have a financial or PR purpose. And, as everything begins to go horrifyingly wrong, we the reader also benefit from Cormac's skills as an observer. He is our eyes and ears, his fears become ours, and the fact that he is talking to us, or to himself, intensifies the smothering sense of isolation.

In parallel with Cormac's description of his experiences in space, we are made witness to flashbacks from Earth, revealing clues to the nature of his relationship with his wife Elena as well as background to the voyage and to the other members of the crew of the Ishiguro. No characters are static, perceptions of some change completely, and few situations are limited to one interpretation. It's not just Cormac Easton who is the explorer here.

The Explorer is not a long novel, making its number of twists, turns and puzzles all the more astonishing for their abundance. To describe any of it would do a disservice to the novel and reader. Suffice to say that it will keep you reading into the night. The mix of the mundane - as mundane or normal as life can be aboard a vessel in space - and the unexpected is thrilling. There are few places where horror is as horrifying as it is in space. James Smythe conveys that perfectly. He has also created a very clever narrative, mixing senses, playing with our perspective and upsetting our preconceptions. I'm glad to report that there is also room for heart - some of the developments gave me such a jolt.

The Explorer is more polished than The Testimony but I couldn't help wishing it were longer. Fortunately, there is a sequel to come although not before another original title to get excited about - The Machine. James Smythe is one of the most thrilling and original young authors around these days. We're lucky to have him.

Incidentally, what a fantastic cover. I think it's my favourite of the year although, as the kindle release is in 2012 and the hardback release is in 2013, the year is debatable.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacking credibility and consistency, 11 Nov 2012
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Explorer (Hardcover)
This is a strange little book, I started off intrigued, went through a long period of thinking it was absolutely dreadful, and then by the end I concluded that it was an interesting, but deeply flawed piece of work.

It is difficult to say very much about the plot without introducing spoilers, but fundamentally this is the story of a disastrous space mission in which one astronaut, the explorer of the title, watches his crew mates die one by one. It is all told in a flat detached tone reminiscent of Stanislaw's Solaris.

I find that one of the most important things for any writer of speculative fiction to do is to get the reader to buy in to his her vision, to suspend disbelief. There are many ways of doing this. At the end of the book the author, James Smythe, credits Iain M Banks as an influence. Banks' novels are utterly incredible, in that they are a long way from what is credible. However, by setting his books in the far future, by writing with panache and by creating a consistent universe Banks succeeds in drawing the reader in. Here, Smythe creates a different challenge for himself. By setting his novel in the near future, I feel he must credibly extrapolate from where we are today, as well as meeting the challenge of consistency.

By about a third of the way through, he had completely lost me. He seemed to have absolutely no understanding of basic physics, his technology did not credibly lead from where we are today, and the basic scenario seemed flawed. Basic physics? People are weightless in an accelerating vehicle. Technology? Human kind has developed artificial gravity and is yet setting out in a tuppence ha'penny spacecraft. The basic scenario? We have a carefully handpicked group of astronauts who squabble like adolescent Big Brother contestants.

Actually, as the novel develops, some of these problems are resolved. The woeful lack of understanding of how the universe operates could be because the narrator is a non scientist and it is his ignorance we are seeing. Although then we are back to credibility, would someone so ignorant of his environment be selected? The unsuitability of the crew is an interesting issue. At first it seems ludicrous, but then as the plot twists, it becomes readily explainable. Sadly, as the reader's understanding of the mission alters again, the crew once more becomes problematic.

It is not too much of a spoiler to say that the book also includes a knotty little time travel paradox. That in itself, is fine and part of a long and honourable science fiction tradition. However, in the way Smythe uses it, it becomes inconsistent. Without giving anything away, the scars mean that the story doesn't follow its own internal logic.

In the end there are just too many physical impossibilities to be explained by the ignorance of the narrator, another example being that the skin of spaceship travelling in a vacuum becomes heated, but these could almost be forgiven if the structure of the novel wasn't so clumsy. Plot devices appear with warning lights flashing on top. The crew is put into suspended animation, not because it would be necessary on a trip of this nature, (and indeed the reason for the suspended animation is another contradiction of basic physics), but because the suspended animation is needed to create a key part of the narrative. Equally the artificial gravity is a ridiculous concept which is only there create another milestone in the story's development.

Disappointingly, it didn't surprise me to learn that the author teaches creative writing. Some of the story telling techniques here come flat packed, ready for assembly.

The book does have some interesting ideas in it. Towards the end it becomes a very reasonable body horror tale. As a study of how people react to extreme pressure it is intriguing. The exploration of the relationship between the narrator and his wife has some valid things to say.

I didn't hate this book, and I could see myself reading other works by the same author. However this book for me didn't succeed and it failed because it ignored the laws of physics, because the basic scenario wasn't credible and didn't draw me in, because it lacked internal consistency, and because the backstage machinery of the plot was too visible.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Desert island discussions..., 20 Nov 2012
By 
Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Explorer (Hardcover)
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The Explorer is all about an internal journey, despite the fact that's its presented as a good old fashioned sci-fi yarn and employs one of the genre's most familiar and pleasingly paradoxical plot devices. James Smythe sneakily casts his protagonist away on a space capsule, and uses deep space exploration as a method to explore themes of isolation, claustrophobia, self-examination and the nature of human relationships. In olden days writers used to maroon their heroes on desert islands to get much the same effect...
The result is an extremely well written, multi-layered narrative, which snags the reader's attention immediately when the entire crew (bar one) of earth's most ambitious space mission drop dead in the first couple of weeks. However, it's then perhaps a little too successful in creating a tense atmosphere of nameless dread and stultifying ennui... I really struggled to care much during the middle section of the tale. It picks up again with a superb twist and a splendid series of revelations in the second half, but stumbled at the last with an ambiguous ending which generated something of a so what?' sensation (in me, at any rate).

So it's hard to rate The Explorer. In some segments it's a no-holds-barred five star story, beautifully rendered, poignant, subtle and stark. But the cumulative impression was rather less successful, and the finale left me feeling somewhat marooned myself.
7/10
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where no man has gone before, gone before, gone before..., 19 Nov 2012
By 
D. M. York (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Explorer (Hardcover)
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Cormack is no scientist, nor is he an engineer. In fact he is the most unlikely astronaut one could conceive of. He knows nothing about the ship nor about space, only that as a journalist he has the job of his lifetime chronically the first manned mission into deep space. Such is the setting for the doomed expedition, as one by one the crew die off until finally Cormack is left on his own drifting inexorably into space.

Though this could be considered a science fiction novel, the science itself takes a back seat to the fiction. Whilst indeed this is a story set in space, it could just have easily have been set in an isolated cabin in Antarctica since so very little of the book focuses upon the technicalities of the science of the future but instead focuses upon the man.

The book begins with the disaster as Cormack recounts how the crew died and how he came to be by himself. Though as the book continues it turns darker, and it quickly appears that Cormack is indeed exploring something that has never before been explored, and he has been doing it for years.

This is a splendidly well written book that leaves an appropriate number of cliff-hangers to keep you reading from page to page. The concept is quite unique and I am quite a fan of the genre. My one criticism is that the ending left a number of questions in my mind that can never be answered. Otherwise excellent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A contemplative, surreal story...., 2 May 2014
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This review is from: The Explorer (Kindle Edition)
A difficult book to pin down. At times it felt like a million Sci-Fi books/movies that we've all seen & read. But excellent characterisations and a voyeurs view to enlighten the reader, made for a more enjoyable and original read, than I expected. I suppose I'll have to read the sequel........
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4.0 out of 5 stars If this were a film, I'd want Duncan Jones to direct it, 14 April 2014
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This review is from: The Explorer (Kindle Edition)
If you asked me, and I've no reason to suppose that you wouldn't because I'm fairly anti-social and all your attempts at conversation would meet with bored glances until you got onto the subject of books at which point I would become sufficiently enlivened to answer the questions you would surely be asking if you weren't concentrating quite so hard on backing away slowly, I'd tell you I don't like sci-fi books. I don't know why I think this because I can't think of a sci-fi book I haven't enjoyed. What I can think of are a few dozen books I've read the blurbs of at the library and put down again because I'm prejudiced against books in which the protagonist's name scores more than 38 points in Scrabble.

The Explorer is the story of a journey. Mankind go into space. They will go out, they will turn around, they will come back triumphant. Our protagonist is Cormac Easton, a journalist who's on the crew to provide the people back home with the story. He is the human in a craft staffed by highly trained boffins, one of whom is dead when they wake up after take-off.

The blurb of this one is at once incredibly misleading and incredibly accurate. It suggests you're going to get something action packed with Cormac trying to avoid dying - you're not. This is a tense, tightly plotted novel of the kind which doesn't make you wonder what's going to happen, it makes you watch as it does.

I'm not a big reader of sci-fi so I honestly don't know how it stacks up against the rest of the genre, but I would push it on people who like books about humans and their humanity. It's the big empty, close-up view of a person and their head.

If I have a criticism, it's probably with the story. I loved the way it was handled, the way it was written, but it's not terribly original. That said, it avoids feeling derivative and it brings its own identity to the party so I don't have a problem with it. I just like to complain.

I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading the followup, The Echo.

4 stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant., 9 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Explorer (Paperback)
One of my favourite books I have read this past couple of years.
I read it assuming it not to be part of a series and came out satisfied, though there were questions unanswered, which are likely to be further explored in the rest of the series. The sequel, The Echo, is also a brilliant read. There's a lot more to this book than you may immediately think, though I think even that may be giving away too much.
Just know that I am constantly in search of new modern science fiction, and this had me hooked. I read it in 3 days, and I tend to pace myself when reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Explorer, 6 Mar 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Explorer (Hardcover)
I recently read The Testimony by this author, and was eager to read this book, as the premise sounded intriguing. Like The Testimony, this book seems to have polarised opinion, with a wide mix of reviews and opinions already evident on the Amazon site. According to the novel's blurb, the story revolves around a journalist, Cormac Easton, selected to document the first manned mission into deep space. But when members of the crew die, Cormac must fight to survive.

There's little that further that can be told of the story here, without spoiling it for readers to come. I enjoyed this book. I thought that the writing was much tighter, much more polished than it had been in The Testimony. The story cracks along at a great pace, and the storyline is riveting. Once I started reading the book, I found I couldn't put it down, and didn't do anything else the entire afternoon until I finished and closed the book. To me, that's the sign of a story that holds your interest, that you can't put down, and indeed don't want to put down until you find out what happens next.

A really good story; I'm glad I perservered with the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sci-fi with an interesting idea..., 6 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Explorer (Kindle Edition)
This is an intriguing tale, with an interesting take on themes covered in other sci-fi novels and movies; I'll say no more - it will give some of the twists away - but there at least 4 films and one book I can think of using the basic idea of 'The Explorer'. That said, Smythe writes well, and with effective characterisations. The story evokes a real feeling of claustrophobia (the main protagonist is a journalist, so understands little of the shenanigans of space travel), and emotion.

The only thing I found irritating was the drip-feeding of information about key events in the life of the central character, which are parachuted in half-way through. These are central to the story (and clearly significant to him), so given the novel is told in the first person from his point of view, surely these things would have crossed his mind sooner than page 100? To be fair, Smythe is by no means the worst at doing this; that dubious accolade goes to Lundqvist's Tattoo/Girl series (great stories; exasperating narrator).

Apart from that, 'The Explorer' is an exciting read :)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric, brooding and disturbing, 31 Dec 2012
By 
Mr. M. D. Horne "recantha" (Potton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Explorer (Kindle Edition)
Very difficult to write this review without giving the plot away, but I'll try.
Brilliantly written by James Smythe, The Explorer is about Cormac Easton, a journalist astronaut aboard a spacecraft whose mission is to simply go further than anyone has before. With the rest of his crew dead (this happens in the first chapter) this becomes a novel about loneliness, despair and facing death when you know it's coming. Told from Cormac's point of view, and in first-person, the narrative tells of his desperate attempts to save his own life and solve the mystery of the mission he has volunteered to go on.
It sounds bleak, and it is bleak, but not without humour and exciting, heart-stopping moments. There is a slight dead patch in the middle of the book but, in a way, this is necessary to the story that is being told. Highly recommended. If I could give it 4.5 stars, I would.
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The Explorer
The Explorer by James Smythe (Hardcover - 17 Jan 2013)
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