Lots of people have been talking about Andy Weir’s space disaster novel The Martian and the upcoming movie version. I haven’t read that, partly because at around the same time I first heard about it, I also heard about James Smythe’s The Explorer and read that instead. It’s creepy and strange, as much about the human mind as it is about exploration. I really enjoyed it.
It turns out that The Explorer was the first in a planned quartet of novels, The Anomaly Quartet, so named because the stories involve astronauts’ encounters with an anomaly that seems to cause time and space to behave wrongly. The Echo, the second book in the quartet, picks up 22 years after the journey chronicled in The Explorer. Twin brothers Mira and Tomas have organized an expedition to find out what happened to the Ishiguro and to learn more about the anomaly. Mira will command their ship, the Lära, and Tomas will stay behind to run the mission from the ground. Mira, the novel’s narrator, is confident that things will go better this time:
Every part of this process has been designed to ensure that nothing can go wrong. I cannot stress that enough: the level of control that we have enacted on this entire operation. Entry to the Lära is as controlled as anything else. There is no room for error. Everything must be checked, processed, run through before we are allowed on. There are exacting checklists full of bullet points that take days to tick off. It’s these things that can mean the difference between life and death. This is how the systems can be guaranteed to work when we need them to, how we can streamline them and make them user friendly while retaining the safety: they are prepared and perfected, and instigated with absolute care and diligence.
Hahahaha! He should have known better than to say something like that. “Guaranteed to work.” Sure it is. It’s probably no surprise that this book concerns itself with the human capacity for self-deception. Mira and his crewmates deceive themselves and each other again and again. Facing the anomaly forces them also to face certain truths about themselves, but they cling hard to the lies.
I don’t want to share a lot about the nature of the anomaly, because it’s more interesting to watch it unfold. I don’t remember a lot of details about The Explorer, other than the fact that the anomaly messes with time and memory. Those details aren’t essential to understanding this book, and the way these explorers approach the anomaly causes them to experience it differently from the crew of the Ishiguro. It still messes with time and memory, but Mira is more aware more quickly of what’s going on than Easton, the narrator of The Explorer, was. His self-deception is not about the nature of the anomaly but about the nature of his relationship with his brother and what that means for the mission.
These books are science fiction adventures that appear to dip into the supernatural. I say appear because at this point it’s not clear whether the anomaly is a supernatural phenomenon or just something that cannot make sense according to known scientific principles (although one could argue that that’s exactly what the supernatural is). The series so far is less about the triumph of science than about the limits of science. What remains to be seen is whether science can grow to meet the challenge of the anomaly in the last two books of the series. It might take a while to find out—I can’t find a publication date for the next book. I hope it’s still coming. I’m curious to see what happens as the anomaly grows and moves closer to Earth.