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The Explorer Paperback – January 2, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager; Jan-2013 edition (January 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062229419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062229410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

They probably dreamed up the phrase niche book for novels like this one. More than a little mind-bending, it tells the story of Cormac, a journalist-astronaut who’s part of humankind’s first manned deep-space expedition. As related by Cormac, when it came time for the cryosleeping astronauts to awaken, they soon died, one by one, for various reasons (faulty space suit, heart attack, etc.). And then the story appears to reset, going back to the beginning, with the crew waking up again; only now, Cormac is an observer, hidden from view, watching events unfold as he has just related them to us. Eventually, Cormac becomes a third-person character in his own first-person story, and by this time, sf fans have either given up in confusion or become glued to their seats. Like Moon, Duncan Jones’ recent film, the story straddles the line between reality and fantasy, but where Jones had visuals to tell his story, Smythe does it entirely with words, calling on us to supply the visuals in our own minds. A challenging and stimulating read. --David Pitt

Review

“There have been teachers in space, senators, and the wealthy who buy tickets. But never has a journalist been launched over the atmosphere. Until Smythe’s gripping novel.” (New York Post)

“The Explorer by James Smythe is quiet, dark book which focuses on the dark and quiet of space….It may not be a flashy…but it is a fascinating character study that could only exist in a science-fictional world.” (io9.com)

“Beautifully written, creepy as hell. The Explorer is as clever in its unravelling as it is breathlessly claustrophobic.” (Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City)

“This is a remarkable book: a state-of-the-art spacecraft constructed from ideas, and propelled by a powerful story. Gripping, terrifying and audacious--an exploration in every sense of the word.” (Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe)

“Science fiction is best when it does what we least expect, when it transforms narrative into something you don’t see coming….It’s a trick not every writer can master, but Smythe makes a marvel of this world, and these characters, and makes this reader want the sequel now.” (Romantic Times BOOKclub (Top Pick!))

“The Explorer is smart, scary and seductive. Like its protagonist, it explores the queasy strangeness of space-time, and puts the reader at the heart of a tale of watching and fearing that comes off like a collaboration between Hitchcock and Heinlein. Excellent stuff.” (Lloyd Shepherd, author of The English Monster)

“Dark, cold, claustrophobic, and oh so very scary. THE EXPLORER is literary science fiction at its blackest best.” (Adam Christopher, author of Empire State and Seven Wonders)

“The Explorer is essentially exemplary: a short, sharp shock of a story from an author who deserves to do as well for himself as he does by us. It’s perfectly plotted, smartly characterised and rife with insight and excitement.” (Tor.com)

“A challenging and stimulating read.” (Booklist)

“A] mind-bending, heart-wrenching, avalanche of a reading experience… an oasis for readers thirsty to find an engaging book… books like this are the kind that create fans, and I’m proud to be one.” (SF Signal)

“The first person perspective and unpretentious prose style are enhanced by accomplished pacing.” (SFX (UK))

“A brilliant book — funny, desperate, desolate, sad, all in equal measure.” (Chuck Wendig)

“Unsettling.” (Daily Telegraph (London))

“The Explorer has the dreamlike detachment of an Ishiguro novel…. reminiscent of a 1970s space movie, where the darkness of the void mirrors the darkness of the human soul.” (Financial Times)

“A wonderful examination of coping with loss, time and death.” (SFX)

“As if Philip K Dick and David Mitchell collaborated on an episode of The West Wing. Unsettling, gripping and hugely thought-provoking.” (FHM)

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Customer Reviews

Wish I had the time wasted on this book reading something else.
Johny A Belgarde
The ending WILL surprise you as just when you think you know what's going on, you don't.
B. Williams
There was no character development and the story line didn't flow.
KC

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
The Explorer is a very different book to Testimony (James' previous). Where the first novel was sprawling with characters and themes, Explorer is concise and closed in. In a sense it is very claustrophobic both in theme and feeling as the novel focuses on Cormac a journalist who is part of a crew sent into deep space. The pivotal point is that the crew around him are all dead and he is left echoing through the infinity. It's no spoiler that the crew dies, it's right there in the blurb but James is crafty in his revealing of how and why the crew come to an end.

On the surface, The Explorer seems to be a slim Sci-Fi adventure but within thirty or so pages the story becomes one about humans - how fragile we are and how our minds cope within our own existence. Without spoiling the twists, it's fair to say that Cormac is a troubled soul. As he narrates his own story and we are given glimpses into his mind we're shown a terrifying experience. It's not a psychological horror, but if you walk away without feeling a little disquieted I'd be surprised.

James explores the concept of space beautifully and in various aspects. Cormac is often in awe of the inky darkness that surrounds him and often expresses his thoughts on looking back at Earth and how small it is. There's a beauty there, but it doesn't come without the fear of human insignificance. Not just in the scope and size of universe but in how constricted we are as a species now that much of our world has been explored. It's an almost philosophical novel without being smacked in the face by ponderous thoughts. The reader is left feeling the same constrictions as Cormac and the crew.

For me, the title is reflected in many ways, not just in the exploration of space but of ourselves.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Alex Tolley on September 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There has been a recent spate of main stream writers producing SF. This book epitomizes the problem when you don't understand the genre. As my review title suggests, it has that Hollywood problem of using costume dress to substitute for content.

This book is essentially a "haunted house" story, and with minimal modification could have been a horror story, a ghost story, etc. Good SF needs solid world building and if there is a mystery, explain it to the satisfaction of the reader. None of that happens here. The logic of the trip is deeply flawed, as are the differing scenarios for the outcome. The ship itself makes no sense to me, engines that can be turned on an off, gravity that can only be turned on when when the engines are off. Distances that make no sense - is the ship near earth, in the the solar system, well beyond it - I've no idea, and neither, I suspect, does Smythe. As for a ship that needs to be "turned around", that should imply a lot about the velocity, not to mention the mission plan.

So the science is juvenile. What is much better are the characters them selves although apart from the main protagonist, they seem a bit sketchy. Even the protagonist's wife, who you might suspect would be well understood. But for me, the problem is that the characters don't seem to be engaged with the purpose of the flight. They act more like strangers thrown together and to be subject to events, just like a murder mystery story. But unlike a group of people alone, the crew has contact with Mission Control who, rather inexplicably don't take any reasonable actions to save the crew.

In summary, ss an SF reader, this book fell far short of my expectations of a "good SF" story. You can read far better SF exploring similar circumstances by Peter Watts.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daniel D. Hales on January 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
It moved forward at a very brisk pace, and I thought the narrative structure was insanely clever. Great way for the protag to step away and look at himself from an outside point of view. I also loved that it didn't fall back on the old cliches when the ending came around. Also, that it didn't play safe with its characters, not even in the slightest.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marie A. Parsons on January 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Trips into the outer reaches of space can seem lonely, terrifyingly so. Time in an enclosed, finite, spaceship can seem claustrophobic. The expanse and vastness between the stars can make humans seem small.

It is good to know that classic-style "trips into outer space" novels are still being written. This one, however, sits well even outside that comfortable box. It could make a fascinating movie.

And what if you are the apparent last survivor of what could be a historic voyage into that vastness of outer space? How would you cope?

This is a tricky, but eerily wonderful, scifi tale of what could have been a simple straightforward "take a ship into outer space to find--something, anything, or not and then report back." But the tale is far more than that, and far more than "how do you cope if you are the last survivor of the trip". Both elements make up part of this story, but the story consists of far more. It is an intriguingly told first-person perspective with a few surprises and twists along the journey. It may also at times not be an easy story to read, but it is worth sticking with.

The title specifically refers to the main character, Cormac, a journalist who is one of the crew of this trip into outer space. The entire voyage of course is intended as one of exploration, as assumedly, humanity has not been into outer space as yet when the story takes place. The idea for the voyage is that they will go as far as they can, see what they can, and then turn around and report back. Things do not go according to the best-laid plans, as usual, especially in outer space. The story does not end where one thinks it might end. The tale seems occasionally claustrophobic--there is no place to go except different parts of the ship--they don't land on asteroids, nor do they see planetoids or such. The ship is Cormac's world.

Does Cormac ever find anything out in space?

Read the book and decide for yourself.
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