explorerThe first manned expedition in years will go deeper into space than anyone has gone before. It’s a thinly-veiled PR stunt, an attempt to reinvigorate interest in manned space exploration, and of course it all goes wrong. Cormac Easton is the journalist on board and the last survivor, chronicling the disasters and his own mental and emotional deterioration as he faces up to the inevitability of his own death.

This book knowingly embraces well-trodden tropes, and winks to them about two-thirds of the way through when the journalist writes how things could have been: everything going smoothly, returning heroes, a best-selling book – followed by a pulpy scifi novel based on familiar tropes and an attempt at a more human angle. On the nose.

It’s also one of those books that kept me turning pages to find out the details of the unfolding past and the ultimate outcome, yet without ever achieving emotional engagement. I was curious to find out what happened to Cormac, but I didn’t really care either way. Perhaps it felt a little too much like it was playing for the movie deal itself (and to be fair, it would work well on screen); perhaps Cormac just wasn’t very likeable (he isn’t, as the second half of the book goes to some lengths to illustrate).

But it’s a good enough read. I think it’s just a little too knowing, if successfully (and painfully) human.

SPOILER (mouse over to read)
My main issue is that this turns out to be a time travel novel that embraces the bootstrap paradox – it revolves around the trope of watching yourself go through the motions and realising that some events require your intervention to match your recollections – and Cormac inevitably considers (repeatedly) the thorny question of the chicken and the egg. What happened the first time when he wasn’t there? (clue: in a bootstrap, there is no first time).

Now, I’m no space scientist (and perhaps I should ask about this) so the mere mention of an anomaly doesn’t suffice as a McGuffin for me.¬†Ultimately, I think the journey is meant to be more important than the destination, but again… that doesn’t really suffice for me. I’d have preferred more ambiguity or more clarity.

So while the resolution works just fine, some of the loose ends bothered me.

SPOILER (mouse over to read)
…although it did make me want to re-watch Moon.
That said, I suspect this novel may grow on me the longer it sits with me. Which may simply be my relatively low exposure to this trope; I’m familiar with it, but not over-exposed. Yet.
***1/2 (yes, dodgy science be damned, I preferred this to The Martian)