The Explorer by James Smythe
Our book group does read the occasional full-blown SF novel, or novels with some SF concepts in like Slaughterhouse-5 which we read last autumn.
I chose this book, selling it to the others as like the film Moon but even more messing with your head. It being a year since I read it, I re-read the novel and, if anything, enjoyed it even more second time around, so for me it was still a 10/10 book.
But what did our book group think?
NOTE: If you haven’t read the book – see my original review here, for it will get a little spoilery below…
Oh well… No-one except me liked the book – but I don’t care! I still loved it, and I started reading the sequel, The Echo, when I got home from book group and am loving that too already. It made for quite a good discussion though.
I was challenged to say what I so loved about it. I replied that I had a strong visual sense of this small crew in a big ship all alone – rather like in one of my favourite SF films Dark Star – but with the sort of enforced cameraderie like the crew in Alien - all together before the chestbuster scene. I relished the claustrophobic atmosphere of it, and didn’t foresee the twists.
One comment was that there wasn’t much to like about any of the crew, except for Arlen, who got killed off quickly like Claire Goose in the first episode of Spooks (remember that!). But you don’t have to like the characters when you read a book.
One of our group though did like the writing and thought it captured the sense of isolation and living at work really well, but she also found it depressing and not good for reading late at night. A couple of the group found it very creepy; well, it is more of a psychodrama that happens to be set in space than hard SF and wasn’t quite what some had expected, not SF enough?
The others didn’t like it for an assortment of reasons. We wondered why the looped Cormac didn’t talk to the real one? Guilt over having caused Arlen’s death perhaps? Guilt over his wife? They also were confused by the design of the ship, and how the looped Cormac was squeezing here, and running through the voids in the hull there. There were more questions than answers.
One of the group really disliked the whole book, except for one sentence on p251 which completely summed up how she felt! :
I always said that the thing I was saddest about, when they had pretty much stopped printing books, was that I couldn’t tell how long was left until the end.
You can’t win ‘em all. It was a brave book group choice but will go down as one of our few failures.
Next month we’re discussing Life after Life by Kate Atkinson – an author I’ve yet to gel with – but with this book’s Groundhog Day type premise – I’m looking forward to comparing and contrasting the time-looping with The Explorer!
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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Explorer by James Smythe; 2013, Harper Voyager paperback – Buy at Amazon UK
The Echo by James Smythe; Jan 2014, Harper Voyager hardback – Buy at Amazon UK