The Explorer by James Smythe (Harper Voyager, Jan. 2013)-When the chance of a lifetime to travel to outer space presents itself to journalist Cormac Easton, he jumps at it, even if it’s to the detriment of his marriage. After all, it’s not every day that you get to travel to space, and he figures things will work out once he returns home. There’s only one problem. His entire crew (with the exception of one woman) is dead, leaving him alone in the ship. When the book starts, Cormac begins to slowly list the ways the crew dies. Some are unusual deaths, and some are more mundane, such as a heart attack, but one thing is sure: Cormac has no idea how he’s going to get home, since his fuel level is descending rapidly, and the ship didn’t turn around at the halfway point like it was supposed to. So, Cormac makes a terrible choice, and finds out things are absolutely not what they seem.
The vastness of space has always been fascinating, and terrifying, to me. In fact, while there are tons of folks that would love to travel to outer space, I’m not one of them, so The Explorer held a sort of morbid fascination for me. As I read the narrative, the specter of the cold, black nothing outside of the ship was always hanging over the events unfolding inside, and Cormac’s realization that he may never get home builds slowly, and excruciatingly (in a good way.) The Explorer reads like a diary, and through Cormac, we get to know each of his fellow crew members, first with Cormac as part of the action, then with Cormac as an outside observer of the events leading up to him being the only one left, hurtling through space. I don’t want to reveal exactly what happens, because that would spoil part of the book, but more than a thriller, and a sci-fi novel, The Explorer is a character study of a man that is full of heartbreak and regret, and what his actions have led to, not only for him, but for those around him. He is falling apart in body and mind, and what he observes among the crew is not only shocking, but leads him to question everything about this once in a lifetime trip that was supposed to make them famous the world over and unite the human race. Or so they thought.
The Explorer is one of the most exciting, creepy, and heartbreaking novels that I’ve read in a long time. Part sci-fi thriller, part mystery, with a liberal sprinkling of horror, and a fast pace that will keep you racing through the pages, this one is un-missable, and I expect it to land on a ton of Best of 2013 lists, including mine. The author leaves a few questions at the end, but in this case, it’s a good thing, and I wasn’t left wanting. Let’s just say that after reading this, I won’t be getting me on a spaceship anytime soon. Don’t miss this one!