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The Explorer (Anomaly Quartet #1) by James…

The Explorer (Anomaly Quartet #1) (edition 2012)

by James Smythe (Author)

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1961193,836 (3.3)24
When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity's great explorers. But in space, nothing goes according to plan. The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod.… (more)
Title:The Explorer (Anomaly Quartet #1)
Authors:James Smythe (Author)
Info:HarperVoyager (2013), 288 pages
Collections:Your library, Read

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The Explorer by James Smythe

  1. 00
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
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    The Outward Urge by John Wyndham (jonathankws)
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    Solaris by Stanisław Lem (jonathankws)
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    The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: British Sci-fi dealing with a space anomaly

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Marketed as a stand-alone novel, James Smythe's The Explorer is in fact the start of a proposed run-of-the-mill sci-fi quartet concerning the 'Anomaly', something that is sketchily introduced towards the end of this first instalment. The book can stand alone, structurally speaking (which is fortunate, as I have no intention of reading further) but it reads like the prologue of a story stretched out to its own novel length. It's a recipe, if not for failure, then at least for tedium.

Partly this tedium comes from the shallowness of the concept; it is all so vaguely done. The 'anomaly' remains a loose MacGuffin, and the motive behind the mission of the spaceship Ishiguro (itself a poor name for such a ship) is lame and impractical (pg. 169). The wishy-washy approach continues into the weak characterisation. We are told this is a bold mission into the unknown, but the crew is cobbled together and do not seem suitable for their tasks. "Look, fucking deal with it", crew members say to one another when they come to each other with problems (pg. 114), and that's when they're not sleeping with one another, plotting, or having angsty hang-ups about things back home (and this is right from the start of their training – not after the mission unravels). None are trained to even basic competence in each other's roles. There's no verisimilitude whatsoever, and because the reader cannot buy into the story it becomes a slog. This is made worse by the fact that the protagonist/narrator is an unlikeable bore; "this is all about me," he writes on page 177, and unfortunately, he's right. The author tries tricks to keep us reading by drip-feeding superficial revelations about the crew, and it works, sort of – it must do, because I finished it. But, as I said, a more merciful writer would have made all of this merely a prologue to a greater story.

In The Explorer, Smythe proves to be a writer who can put words on the page – but not judiciously. The book rambles and splutters along, and the author's laboured approach is made all the starker by the fact that the protagonist is meant to be a journalist, someone with a facility for words. (A journalist cherry-picked for this elite assignment, no less). The grammar and sentence construction are poor and seem unrevised ("the rest of us crewmates questioned the choice" (pg. 115)). Smythe's time loop idea is poorly handled in a narrative sense, and his understanding of spacetime superficial. He makes even virgin space exploration sound boring, and the book limps to its end. There's no real resolution, or answers to the mysteries posed. It's a set-up to a wider idea, but strung out interminably. Frankly, the author's reach vastly exceeds his grasp, and the book is a misfire. ( )
  Mike_F | Jan 14, 2020 |
This was weak compared to the the Machine, lacking its brutish power... ( )
  AlanPoulter | Feb 6, 2017 |
Good premise but the book just dragged. ( )
  gregandlarry | Mar 14, 2015 |
The first manned expedition in years will go deeper into space than anyone has gone before. It's a thinly-veiled PR stunt, an attempt to reinvigorate interest in manned space exploration, and of course it all goes wrong. Cormac Easton is the journalist on board and the last survivor, chronicling the disasters and his own mental and emotional deterioration as he faces up to the inevitability of his own death.

This book knowingly embraces well-trodden tropes, and winks to them about two-thirds of the way through when the journalist writes how things could have been: everything going smoothly, returning heroes, a best-selling book - followed by a pulpy scifi novel based on familiar tropes and an attempt at a more human angle. On the nose.

It's also one of those books that kept me turning pages to find out the details of the unfolding past and the ultimate outcome, yet without ever achieving emotional engagement. I was curious to find out what happened to Cormac, but I didn't really care either way. Perhaps it felt a little too much like it was playing for the movie deal itself (and to be fair, it would work well on screen); perhaps Cormac just wasn't very likeable (he isn't, as the second half of the book goes to some lengths to illustrate).

But it's a good enough read. I think it's just a little too knowing, if successfully (and painfully) human. Plus, while the resolution works just fine, some of the loose ends bothered me.

That said, I suspect this novel may grow on me the longer it sits with me. Which may simply be my relatively low exposure to the core trope; I'm familiar with it, but not over-exposed. Yet. ( )
  imyril | Jan 27, 2015 |
Went on a mad book download, and this was one of the titles I picked. Overall, a good read - clever concept, great characterisation, and so many surprises that I'm not sure I can describe what happens without giving away the plot. The pacing comes unstuck towards the end, right about where I was hoping that everything would come together, or be explained - Cormac's fevered introspection drones on and on, and then the book suddenly ends - but that's not too much of a detraction. The Guardian's review of 'an episode of Star Trek written by JM Coetzee' - or indeed Ishiguro - is spot on. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jan 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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One of the first things I did when I realized that I was never going to make it home - when I was the only crewmember left, all the others stuffed into their sleeping chambers like rigid, vacuum-packed action figures - was to write up a list of everybody I would never see again; let me wallow in it, swim around in missing them as much as I could.
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