Book Review

The Explorer by James Smythe

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.

I’m a big fan of James Smythe’s work, in particular No Harm Can Come to a Good Man and I Still Dream, and I’ve had my eye on The Explorer – book 1 of The Anomaly Quartet – for some time.  While I thought that I knew what was coming from the blurb, it very quickly surpassed my expectations – it wasn’t what I had anticipated (and I mean that in the best possible way) and I was blown away by it.  As such, I’m going to keep this review relatively brief as I’d hate to spoil it for other readers. 

Cormac Easton is a journalist who has been selected to join the crew of the Ishiguro – a manned space vessel seeking to travel further into space than humans have gone before.  Except, things begin to go wrong from the very beginning of the mission.  Upon waking, the crew find their captain, Arlen, dead in his safety pod, and other events – some small, others not so much – occur as the mission progresses.  That really is as much as I can say about the plot.  It sounds relatively simple, but it quickly proves to be anything but, and this is a novel that I raced through as I was desperate to understand what was going on.  The structure works brilliantly to engage the reader – a lot happens in the first few chapters to hook you in, and while you have to wait a little longer for the explanation of those events, it’s worth it.

As well as learning about the mission and the events on the Ishiguro, we also find more about Cormac’s background, how he was selected as part of the crew, and some of his training in preparing for the mission.  It’s hard to say whether I liked Cormac or not – I thought he was selfish, and some of his behaviour prior to the mission is problematic, but I did start to sympathise with him as the novel progressed.  He is given a genuine once in a lifetime opportunity and the chance to fulfil an ambition, and yet his wife asks him not to go.  It’s a difficult situation to be in, but while he doesn’t handle it well, I wasn’t sure whose side I was on in that argument.  And it’s hard not to feel for him as the events on the Ishiguro escalate and as we start to understand more about Cormac’s circumstances.

The Explorer is a fantastically tense sci fi thriller that is rich in atmosphere and comes with a heavy dose of claustrophobia, and maybe just a little dash of horror thrown in as well. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m heading out to buy a copy of the second novel in the quartet, The Echo, now.

It’s worth noting that this series isn’t yet complete – the third novel, The Edge, is scheduled for publication in early 2021, and I’m hoping Smythe isn’t going to keep me waiting too long for the fourth book, assuming that the series is still intended to be a quartet.


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