My crew died in bits and bobs, dribs and drabs, up here, with me.

Cormac Easton is a journalist. A journalist left on a space-ship where his crew has died; all alone, contemplating the end. What happened isn’t really the question, they died in mundane ways, things that happen in space. In a vacuum.

First off, I absolutely loved this book, gripping and clever; it kept me up reading late into the night. Set in the not too distant future, the technology is on the edge of possibility. The spaceship setting has an eerie, claustrophobic feel. For as much as space is fascinating and beautiful, it’s pretty scary place even without the threat of aliens or anything the mind can fabricate. It doesn’t take much for something to go wrong and be life threatening.

James Smythe manages to combine a first person narrative with third at the same time. That might not make sense now, but I don’t want to reveal a spoiler for the second act. This removes some of the limitations of first person whereby things not in Cormac’s knowledge are revealed to the reader and to Cormac. Going forward, the novel is full of things that don’t quite make sense at the start. It’s the stuff of nightmares that a few days without brushing your teeth will make them loose! I read on (whilst trying not to poke my teeth) and patience was rewarded. And isn’t just a nice feeling when you have that ahhh moment?

Back on earth, flashbacks start to patch together the events that brought Cormac to the mission and his relationship with his wife. Elena came across as a bit needy and over-reactive at the start, but as the information is drip fed, you begin to realise why she was the way she was. Hindsight is all very good when he’s floating around in a doomed spaceship but most of us would be overjoyed that a loved one had a chance to do something so amazing. However is all leads up to another moment of realisation.

The politics of space travel are also touched on. Gone are the days of the space race where millions of dollars were thrown at space exploration. It is expensive and dangerous and there are justifications for the Ishiguro’s mission, even in an age where it’s not considered that important. Also raised are questions about private sector funding and implications.

The minutiae of space living is either going to be fascinating or tiresome, depending on if you’re interested in space travel. There’s not a lot to do in space after all. I enjoyed the descriptions of the day-to-day on-board the Ishiguro. Even if it’s not your thing, still give the book a chance, the writing and plot will carry you through.

Finally, there are some lovely writerly little touches; comments about tense and a wonderful passage approaching the end, contemplating the act of finishing reading an ebook.

This is a bit of an advance review but this book deserves to be talked about a bit more! The Explorer will be published by Harper Voyager; the ebook edition released on 20th December 2012 with the hardback following on 17th January 2013. Big thanks go to James and the publisher for providing a copy for review. I’m only sorry that you still have a while to wait… Of course, you can always read The Testimony whilst you’re waiting.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones