Not Fade Away – The Echo by James Smythe

echoThe Echo is sequel to 2013’s The Explorer and book two in the Anomaly Quartet. If you haven’t read The Explorer, stop reading now… 

Twenty or more years have passed since Earth lost contact with the Ishiguro, and now we’re heading out again.  Twins Mira and Tomas head of up team of international astronauts heading towards ‘the anomaly’. What could possibly go wrong?

Mira and Tomas are the innovators and driving force behind UNSA spaceship the Lära. They once did research for Dr Singer, one of the astronauts on board the Ishiguro and it is their desire to continue his work. The anomaly has now been formally identified on Earth and the twins want to investigate further.  Mira is on board the Lära, whilst Tomas sits at mission control. For this mission nothing has been left to chance.  Mira is clear, The Ishiguro’s pandering to money and publicity meant its mission was flawed. Scientific rigour has replaced celebrity. This time all bases are covered.

A number of reviews of The Explorer complained about a couple of specific ‘flaws’ in the novel: Smythe’s (mis)use of gravity and the preposterous idea that a comparatively untrained journalist would be allowed a spot on such an important mission. In the opening pages Smythe acknowledges the criticisms thrown at his first book before smashing them over the stands into the car park. In an age where the barrier between author and reader has never been thinner, Smythe has used his customer feedback to enhance both novels in his quartet. It’s neat trick and one that made me laugh.

The opening chapters of The Echo are a masterclass in suspense storytelling. The sense of menace builds to almost unbearable levels. In a more famous franchise, characters would have been looking at each other and saying ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this.’ The opening third of the novel is my favourite section of the Anomaly books so far. What follows is another examination on the terror of isolation, and the nature of faith. Once again, the wheels start to fall off the cart (or wings off the spaceship) and no amount of faith in scientific method can save the crew from a nerve-shredding implosion.

If I have a complaint about the book it’s that it didn’t move the overreaching story along quick enough. The echoes of the previous story made a nice touch, but by the end of this book, I’m not sure we’re much further on than after the big reveal in The Explorer. Space Odysseys are not my usual fictional fare, so I think I was hoping we might grapple with the anomaly itself. There are some teasing hints as to what this entity might be, but it was all a bit too ethereal for me.

Having said that, once again Smythe excels at depicting the unravelling sanity of his characters. The use of twins separated across miles of space heightens the sense of isolation. The distance and the tough calls drive a wedge between these two closest of brothers and the rupturing of the twin-twin bond adds another dimension to the novel.

As with The Explorer, Smythe delivers a sparse psychological horror. The Echo is a book that expands on what has come before and teases as to what happens next. I said I’m not a huge fan of Space Odyssey but I’m hooked on the myriad folds and turns of this one. Roll on book three…

Many Thanks to Jaime and the team at Harper Voyager. James can be found on Twitter as @jpsmythe and his other recent novel The Machine is out now in paperback. It is also one of the best novels published during 2013

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