Hot on the heels of the apocalyptic vision described in his debut, rising star James Smythe returns to genre fiction with a deliciously different book from his first. An introspective time travel novel from which you won’t be able to look away, The Explorer plays out like Moon meets Groundhog Day.
It’s “a pulpy, sci-fi thing about a man who is trapped in a perpetual loop, a time loop, like so many other sci-fi stories wrenched from the back of magazines—there are no original ideas, not any more—but this one is more human, or trying to be.” In this, it succeeds indeed. The various incarnations of Cormac Easton alternate between ecstatic, distracted and tragic, meanwhile the other astronauts on the Ishiguro feel equally real.
Not that they live long enough to make much of an initial impression, because the author knocks the whole lot off in The Explorer’s opening chapter, in what would be a comedy of errors under other circumstances. And our understandably manic protagonist is next: Cormac himself dies soon afterwards, only to open his eyes...and surprise! The spaceship and its crew, including a visibly healthier version of himself, have been miraculously restored around him, as if none of the hell they went through—the very hell they’ll go through again unless our half-crazed narrator can change their fate—had happened.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves already, however this is suspiciously fitting—after all, the beginning of the end is the end of the beginning in Smythe’s superlative second novel, thus the short opening section of The Explorer is ingeniously designed to displace. But you must be wondering who the eponymous explorer is anyway, and what in the world he’s doing in space...so I’ll be kind, and rewind.