Marooned in Space in ‘The Explorer’

Books Evergreen


I love surprises, especially when it comes to science fiction movies and books. Remember Moon? This little gem of a movie caught me by surprise — very little fanfare, but what a story! Many on my list of favorite authors started out as surprise purchases at the bookstore all because the cover and back cover copy managed to catch my eye. Of course, it still takes a great story to fulfill the vague promise of the back cover or inside jacket blurb, but when the stars align, I feel like I won a small lottery.

Such is the case with The Explorer by James Smythe. Here’s the blurb that I encountered during an online hunt for some new reading material:

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. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: no matter what happens, the mission must continue.

But 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.

With a pitch like that, I had to give it a try.

But here’s the problem — as I’m reading the book, I’m quickly realizing how difficult it’s going to be to review this story without giving away the story. Read that intro blurb again.

The captain is dead. That’s not good. But the mission must go on. Body count rises. Uh oh. Cormac finds himself alone. Can you imagine being the sole survivor on a deep space mission?

And this is exactly what you get in the first third of the book — a man examining a failed mission as he contemplates the remaining fuel, food, and oxygen left on a ship that’s damaged and on a one way trip. The book jumps back and forth with quick flashbacks to the start of the mission but the majority of the tale is told from Cormac’s point of view, so you’re in his head, knowing only what he knows and nothing else. And think about this — he’s the journalist selected for the trip, so his technical skills were thin to begin with as he was given only the most rudimentary training on the ship’s numerous functions.

Okay, so I really haven’t told you anything that cannot be inferred from the short summary of the book that you probably would have read before purchasing the book, so I think I’m still safe and haven’t given away too much.

You’ve got to wonder just how an author is going to pull off a science fiction story where he basically provides the order and manner in which five of the six crew members die in the first ten pages. Yeah, Smythe did that. So there was no way I was NOT going to finish this book fast.

It’s a tight story, and just when I thought I had discovered an inconsistency, I discovered that I was wrong: no inconsistency — just a very well-planned story. The downside to finishing the tale is you can’t unread it. Just as you can never watch The Usual Suspects again as an unsuspecting viewer, once The Explorer reveal is made, you’re committed.

It’s a good story… you can really put yourself in the shoes of Cormac and begin thinking what you would do in this same situation. Crew dead. Ship pointed away from Earth and not coming back. So far from home that communication has broken down.

If you like surprise finds like I do, give it a read (and be careful reading reviews/comments — too big a risk of a major spoiler). I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. For me, The Explorer delivered.

Note: I’d like to thank Jessie E. for providing a review copy.

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