James Smythe’s U.S. debut novel, The Explorer, feels both revolutionary and modern, with a retro touch that recalls the classic work of Arthur C. Clarke. Set in the confines of a tiny spaceship as far out in the universe as humans have ever traveled, it mesmerizes and terrifies at once. Smythe, who has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock and Robert A. Heinlein, may be new to the American science fiction world, but with The Explorer, it is only a matter of time before he becomes one of the genre greats.
As the drama — both external and in the increasingly unsteady mind of Cormac — plays out in the claustrophobic confines of the spaceship, Smythe gives the reader a complex examination of what it means to be human.
The plot of The Explorer is simple. A group of brave men and women, all scientists, astronauts, or engineers — except for one journalist sent to document the mission — set out on the first manned exploration of deep space. Almost from the beginning of the trip, things don’t go as planned. The crew wakes up to find that their captain has died in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. But the directive from Ground Control is unequivocal: the mission must go on. As the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiraling toward his own inevitable death … unless he can do something to stop it.
From the opening section — in which journalist-turned-space explorer Cormac Easton gives a Tim O’Brien-esque recounting of the crew members of who have died and left him as the lone, and least-qualified, member of a spaceship on an unprecedented mission of exploration — The Explorer draws the reader into its tense, paranoid clutches. Smythe’s prose is taut and absorbing, “literary science fiction at its blackest best” (Adam Christopher). As a psychological thriller, The Explorer acquaints the reader with unnerving intimacy with Cormac’s desperation, with his precarious grip on reality. As a sci-fi novel, it strips away genre tropes, exposing the essentials. No vast canvas, no space-opera scope, no far-distant civilizations. Just a man trying to hold onto his humanity in the most extreme of circumstances.
About the Author: James Smythe was born in London in 1980. Since completing a Ph.D. at Cardiff University, he has taught creative writing, and is currently writer/narrative designer for a major forthcoming video game. He lives on the grounds of a boarding school in West Sussex.
Check it out on Amazon: The Explorer
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