The Echo is the sequel to The Explorer and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.
It’s been twenty years since the disappearance of the Ishiguro. A new mission has set out to conduct research on the anomaly, where the Ishiguro was last seen, a vast area of nothingness in space.
There is a sibling rivalry between Mira and Tomas, right from the start of their lives and throughout their careers. Identical twins; Tomas was born with a birthmark and Mira, Mirakel, was unexpected, both looking towards science, both over achieving. Tomas is left at mission control on earth whilst Mira had the chance to see the anomaly in person. This separation and professional reliance on each other is a red flag. Something is bound to go wrong.
It took me a while longer than James’ other books to get into. Mira’s lack of connection to the crew also distances the reader, but I think what Mr Smythe does well are characters in isolation. Whilst Mira might not be physically alone, he does manage to be apart mentally, and without giving too much away, there are still parts that are very much about the loneliness and emptiness of space, even though it is a different sort of novel to The Explorer.
In The Explorer, Cormac became an observer of himself. Here, Mira becomes an external observer of the anomaly’s behaviour, not a participant. Even in this he is distanced, an outsider, again. Before the anomaly was a mystery, completely unexplained. This time, they are setting out to discover what it is.
One thing I enjoyed was the constant references to lack of sleep in the early parts. I read this during the final stages of a 24 hour readathon, so they had a certain relevance at the time. Mira’s determination not to sleep is probably the first thing that pushes him away from the rest of the crew. He doesn’t miss anything but they must sleep. Even Tomas, back on earth sleeps. Staying awake puts Mira in a position of power over everyone else. But what is the price of insomnia? I rather wanted some more consequences to this, but thinking back on the ending, maybe that’s what happens, maybe he’s just crazy?
The Echo is another bleak book, one that gives hope and then snatches it away. Perhaps that is worse than never having hope in the first place… It’s an admirable sequel to the excellent Explorer, which is a very hard book to beat. Like all of James' books, there's plenty to ponder and return to.
The Echo is published by Harper Voyager and will be available on 16th January 2014 in hardback and ebook editions (so save some of your Christmas vouchers). Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.