Ever since my first encounter with the glowing blue introduction text of "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.." I have enjoyed a boundless love affair with outer space. Just as the monstrous television series coined it the final frontier, mankind's last wilderness of unknown exploration that explains the vast success of such films as Star Wars and Star Trek, the mystery of space exploration, for any imaginative writer holds such a vast backdrop for endless creative possibilities.
Yet with this fascination, comes the fear of such an unknown horizon. Many of the most successful stories set in space all tend to follow the same theme, peril. As children of earth we seem to hold a rather negative fascination with fear and attach it to anything that we don't understand. Film franchises such as Alien, Predator and the critically acclaimed novels by Arthur C Clarke, all play upon our fears of space, and James Smythe's novel The Explorer is no exception to the trend.
Set in the not so distant future, we join the spaceship Ishiguro as the crew have just awoken from their hyper sleep (sound familiar?). There, we are welcomed by the stories narrator Cormac Easton, a journalist crewed to document the account of the rather simplistic mission of travelling "further into space then any earth vessel had travelled before" (hmmm.. sounds rather familiar as well right?). What follows on from page one, is a first person account of various accidents. At first, these appear to be due to the nature of the situation, but as each page flips over, the accidents become more and more suspicious.
Although the obvious similarities with various other space peril genre stories, these play out to be more of a salute to them, rather than a plagiarism, and if you're a fan of the genre (like me) you won't mind this, as they set up the story with an instant intrigue. What follows is Smythe expertly flinging you through the series of events as he maintains a pace worthy of any great storyteller. In spite of the speed of the read, the suspense is sustained throughout the many twists and turns, until finally landing at a somewhat fun and terrifying conclusion.
Having the main character as a writer on-board a spacecraft is a very clever concept, as it would have made things easier to write as Smythe developed his story; no need for any of the complex language you might expect to find in a Star Trek episode! But it is the isolation, although not an original idea, that keeps you gripped. The emotional journey of the main character, lost in space echoed that of Major Tom floating deeper and deeper into the void. Films such as Moon and the television series Lost, appear to mirror the concept of being isolated in the story as well as the characters being trapped within themselves. Smythe has archived a novel that will not only appeal to any science fiction fan, but also any of those thriller junkies looking for their fix of fear and suspense.
The Explorer is published by Harper Voyager and is currently available in paperback from Amazon.