Friday, 29 May 2015

The Echo by James Smythe

Why can't just one person live through
one of his novels?
Space exploration – it's an idea that inspires great flights of fancy and equal measures of terror, the void through which we spin is the macro equivalent to the empty centre of each of us and is thus such a draw for the soul of mankind. Or something. Which is why, I suspect, in Smythe's second anomaly novel, Earth is firing yet another set of astronauts into the dark despite having lost a first bunch in the first book, The Explorer, and yet more further back in the other tragedy referenced, the Indian moon mission disaster. This time it's twin brothers Tomas and Mira, first rate intellects and relentless perfectionists, who have created a perfect spaceship (HUBRIS KLAXON) with which to explore and study the anomaly, a completely black area of space that appears to be heading this way. Readers of the first novel will recognise the same anomaly which did for Cormac Easton and chums. In fact, the erstwhile explorer makes an appearance as does the good ship Ishiguro as our own intrepid team make contact with the void in the worst way possible. 

Again, it's rather difficult to do justice to this novel without completely ruining the surprise. I will say, hubris notwithstanding, that I spotted the twist pretty quickly, but that doesn't take anything away from what is another taut, suspense-filled novel, with terror, horror and death a-plenty – the body count must be up there with Hot Shots! Part Deux. There are plenty of unanswered questions, and told from the point of view of Mira aboard the Lära, inevitably themes of sibling rivalry, separation and solitude abound, exploring the mind as much as the void. And the anomaly itself, impersonal, indifferent, entirely enigmatic and unknowable, is a terrifying and believable character in it's own right. Why is it here? What does it mean? Is it coming straight for us? Thought-provoking and very entertaining in a bleak, everyone-is-going-to-die* sort-of fashion, this is setting up what should be a very interesting third and fourth book in the tetralogy, and I shall be gently stalking Mr Smythe through social media for the foreseeable future.

* Or near as damn it.

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