The Explorer Paperback – 29 Aug 2013
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‘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
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.Read more ›
I won't give anymore of the plot away, as it would spoil it for other readers, but the development of the story is interesting and carries a real claustrophobic feel as all the action is set within the confines of the ship. Seeing developments through Cormac's eyes is also good, as you do get a sense of confusion and helplessness, which makes it quite a dark novel.
It is readable, and the quality of the writing is good. I liked the resolution, and the growing sense of awareness of what was really going on, and there isn't much technical detail in which to get bogged down. All in all a decent read.
Firstly the good parts...
It is an interesting story. I enjoyed the quiet dreamy claustrophobic feel to it, and the twists and turns along the way. It made me think about the ending for some time afterwards so it was successful in that respect.
The science in the book was sub-par. If you can manage to watch Hollywood sci-fi films without cringing then maybe you won't notice, but I expect more from sci-fi books where the author has the time to explain and not take short cuts.
Here is a quote talking about the space craft travelling in vacuum, "The engines have smaller engines facing the opposite direction that fire for a single burst to slow the craft down, otherwise the momentum would be tremendous and we’d never get to leave the ship. After they’ve fired, there’s a fifteen-minute wait for the ship’s hull to cool". I won't pick through that as I don't want to turn this review into a physics lecture, but if that kind of thing bothers you, then there is a lot of it in this book.
I'm going to read the next in the quartet "The Echo" with some trepidation; I'm really hoping James Smythe has had a science advisor look over the text.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book gets so many good reviews and I can't fathom why, some key parts seem artlessly contrived to keep the ropey plot alive. Read morePublished 6 days ago by Amazon Customer
It will be hard to review this book without giving the plot away as I went into this book knowing very little about how the story develops. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kay Smillie
A really quite foreboding, atmospheric read, at times very intense and written in a very human way.
I will be reading the follow up but after a brief break with something... Read more
Some interesting ideas but they can' taste the book. Very light on science and infuriatingly inaccurate on space and basic physics.Published 5 months ago by James Hurrell
After 3 chapters I was hooked, if not only because I found Cormac so god damn frustrating as a character and wanted to find some peace with myself about him. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Katrina McMullen
Difficult to choose a point where to step in on this loop but I felt I had to, to stop the spinning. I had difficulty putting this book down, which is a good thing, for 90%. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Ian Collins
I Loved this and I didn't think I particularly cared for horror or sci-fi, and this is both. Really pacey, gripping, psychologically interesting read. Read morePublished 7 months ago by jsdfhk
Magic science fiction. Stands head and shoulders above other books.Published 7 months ago by Glen Mehn