Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Book Review: The Explorer by James Smythe

Pros: interesting premise, interesting examination of perceived experience vs the larger reality,  quick read

Cons: scientific errors, protagonist gets irritating at times

Six astronauts are on a voyage to explore space, going further than any manned mission in the past.  But almost immediately things start going wrong, and as the crew die - one by one - their reporter, Cormac, the least skilled among them, wonders if their mission will succeed.

This is an interesting novel about the worth of exploration and what it takes to leave everything you know for such an opportunity.  There's a twist at the quarter mark that propels this novel from a simple exploratory mission into an examination of how we perceive events based on limited knowledge, memory vs reality and causality.

We get to know Cormac the most, as it's his POV we follow, but through his observations and experiences we also get to know the other crew members.  The story alternates between what's happening on the ship and the process of being chosen for the mission back on Earth.

Cormac's experiences are interesting but his personality gets a bit grating as things break down and he can't do anything but wait for death.

Twenty or so pages before the end of the ebook, the climax hits.  I eagerly turned the page to find out what happened only to discover that the novel was over and the final pages were an excerpt for Smythe's next book.  This was incredibly jarring and meant I didn't appreciate the open style of the ending as I otherwise might have.

I enjoyed the book enough to pass it along to my husband.  Turns out it was a good thing, as the first draft of this review stated the science was accurate. My husband is a huge hard SF fan and he pointed out several errors the book makes with regards to space.  There's a scene that mildly irritated him where water didn't act the way it would in zero gravity.  But the main problem is that the ship is brought to a halt on several occasions for checks and repairs.  Not only would this waste their fuel, both to stop and to start up again (having killed their momentum), each stop would alter their course, which we're told has been pre-set.  These errors made it harder for him to enjoy the book.

It's an interesting novel, and a very quick read, but those of you looking for hard SF might want to give this one a pass.  

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