Review: The Explorer by James Smythe

“One of the first things I did when I realized that I was never going to make it home – when I was the only crew member 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…”
~James Smythe, The Explorer

Plot summary

“A tense, claustrophobic and gripping science fiction thriller from the author of The Testimony.

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 spiralling towards his own inevitable death … unless he can do something to stop it.” More on Goodreads

Earth from space. Photo: SDASM Archives, no known copyright restrictions
Earth from space. Photo: SDASM Archives, no known copyright restrictions
On James Smythe

“James Smythe is one of the most lauded young writers of his generation. He received his PhD in Creative Writing from Cardiff University, where he also taught. He currently teaches creative writing at Roehampton University.

His next novel I STILL DREAM will be published by Harper Collins in 2018. It is a dark, moving, and ultimately hopeful examination of what it means to be human – and how quick we are to set that humanity aside in the name of progress. Smythe is also a screen writer and is writing a (secret) major blockbuster for Sony.” More on Rogers, Coleridge & White

Key concepts
  • Claustrophobia in limited words
  • The hilarious part about negativity
  • What on earth is going on?

In this novel, space odyssey is a mode of reality TV: the commercially sponsored crew members are global celebrities whose video diaries and interviews are lucrative media events. As a mild satire on contemporary media obsession, that works fine.” ~Roberts 2013

I have a thing about closed spaces. I always imagined submarines to be places where I certainly did not want to end up in. No potential danger or worry there, but I think spacecrafts would be the same, or even worse.

For the fun of it, I googled “fear of space”. While googling, I came to realize there is a Wiki site for phobias… I guess now I’ve seen it all, nothing amazes my any longer. Good fellow humans…

According to the British Interplanetary Society, “the term ‘astrophobia’ is increasingly creeping into our language as a term referring to an intense fear of space and celestial objects.  Perhaps it’s not surprising given what we see in popular culture. Science fiction films have routinely depicted invasions from outer space, the devastating effects of objects colliding with the Earth, or the possibility of horrific diseases arriving on returning spacecraft.”

Phobia Wiki lists several phobias related to space, space travel, space objects, aliens etc. “Astrophobia is the fear of celestial objects or others surrounding it. Depending on the person, this phobia is linked to the fear of dark (nyctophobia), fear of aliens (alienophobia), or fear of space exploration (spacephobia).”

The Wiki site also lists several branches of astrophobia:

  • Spacephobia: fear of outer space
  • Heliophobia: fear of the sun
  • Selenophobia: fear of the moon
  • Siderophobia: fear of stars
  • Cometophobia: fear of comets
  • Meteorophobia: fear of meteors
  • Cosmophobia: fear of the cosmos
  • Kosmikophobia: fear of cosmic phenomenon”

Okay, I’m gonna leave you with that. This part was only an introduction to what I really wanted to write. And a great opportunity to learn new vocabulary. I hope nobody got offended, definitively did not intend to. So here we go!

James Smythe‘s The Explorer is a refreshing take on space missions. The novel is by no means an ingenious work but it does shed some light on human psychology in closed encounters. For claustrophobic readers, the thriller in the story is even more intense.

On some level, the story is a major tragicomedy. Without wanting to spoil too much, let me say the novel does not fit the “and they lived happily ever after” category. Everything is pretty much desperate, claustrophobic, murderous and what not. None of the characters are likable, so the whole fun is in the over the top negativity and bad luck.

The Explorer is not your usual science fiction story. The order of procedure in the novel is interesting: By bits and pieces the reader gets the whole picture and in the end one is not so certain what the picture displays.

Next up on my reading list in a not too near future: Smythe’s The Echo

I couldn’t stand to relive this trip through my own eyes, I don’t think.” ~James Smythe, The Explorer

Ints Valcis / Flickr, Public domain
Other novels and stories by Smythe
  • The Testimony (2012)
  • The Machine (2013)
  • The Echo (2014)
  • No Harm Can Come to a Good Man (2014)
  • Way Down Dark (2015)

More information
– Adam Roberts: The Explorer by James Smythe – review, published in the Guardian on 18 January 2013, link retrieved on 11 December 2017

“We send probes and cameras…but we never send out eyes; this way, we’ll be looking back at ourselves from further away than anybody has had the chance to before, and we’ll – hopefully – be able to understand ourselves a bit better because of it.”
~James Smythe, The Explorer

Cover photo: FelixMittermeier / Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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