Publisher: Harper Voyager

The Echo by James Smythe

Posted January 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Echo by James SmytheTitle: The Echo (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Series: The Anomaly Quartet #2
Published: Harper Voyager, 28-01-2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Edelweiss

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Twenty years after the Ishiguro vanished, two brilliant scientists have been asked to help answer the many questions surrounding this disappearance. Identical twins Tomas and Mirakel Hyvönen have been interested in space travel since children. Not space, just the equipment. Can that find the Ishiguro, will they solve the mystery or will this just lead to more questions.

This is the sequel to The Explorer, so it is going to be hard reviewing this book without giving anything away. Already I might have said too much about the first book but I highly recommend reading The Explorer anyway. This series is off to a fantastic start and I’m already eager for the next book, which unfortunately may not be till next year.

If you have never read James Smythe before, I recommend him highly. His books The Explorer and The Machine book made my top books of 2013; that is a rare and incredible feat since I had so many books to pick from. Smythe writes literary science fiction that not only keeps you on the edge of your seat; they will also get you contemplating humanity.

The Echo has that philosophical and bleak style you come to expect from James Smythe. While this book sounded like there weren’t any thrilling moments, I was wrong; I was addicted to this book as much as The Explorer and it kept me up late at night. I love the way this author looks at life and sanity; there is so much he wants to say and I’m beginning to wonder if the planned four books series is enough.

I really want to say more about this novel but I’m afraid anything I do say will be a spoiler. I hate leaving a review so short but I highly recommend this series and that is all I can really tell you. James Smythe has another book coming out this year, so I have something to look forward to. I’m sure The Testimony will also be read during the course of 2014 as well.

The Explorer by James Smythe

Posted December 18, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Science Fiction / 3 Comments

The Explorer by James SmytheTitle: The Explorer (Goodreads)
Author: James Smythe
Series: The Anomaly Quartet #1
Published: Harper Voyager, 2013
Pages: 260
Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Cormac Easton has been selected to be the first journalist in space, sent to document the flight of Ishiguro into deep space. When the crew wakes up from hypersleep they discover their captain died in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. One by one the rest of the crew died and Cormac was left alone; or so he thinks.

This is going to be difficult to review this book without giving spoilers; there are some big reveals within this novel that need to be left unmentioned. For those people that don’t read much science fiction don’t let the fact this is set in space put you off. This is literary sci-fi, the novel explores humanity. Also for those that think this sounds similar to my recent review of The Martian, they are completely different, while they both have a protagonist isolated in space that is pretty much the only thing they have in common.

I can’t really talk much about the plot, you just have to go out and read it; I want to talk a little about Cormac Easton. Whether you like him or not (I didn’t) there is something I found really interesting about this protagonist. James Smythe shows the reader just how to write an unreliable narrator. You spend most of this book trying to work out if Cormac is leaving things out because he is human and forgot or if it is on purpose, you also question everything he says, what is true and what is a lie. This works really well and I found it added to the tension and thrill of the novel.

Similar to The Martian I can’t help but comparing this to the movie Moon but when you get further into the book you can see some similarities to science fiction movies from the 80’s and 90’s (the one I’m thinking of might be too much of a spoiler). In the world of books, I’m reminded of classic science fiction; those books that have so much to say about humanity. I would probably compare Smythe to an author like Robert A. Heinlein; In fact I think I made a similar comparison to classic sci-fi in my review of The Machine.

James Smythe has been a great discovery for me, I love how he explores humanity in his novels. It might be weird but I think both The Machine and The Explorer may end up in my Best of 2013 list. I want to read more books by this author and have in fact started the sequel to this one (The Echo) already. I’m also looking forward to trying his first novel The Testimony and eagerly anticipating his currently untitled book that comes out mid-2014. Smythe seems to be a machine, two books released in 2013 and two being released in 2014, at this rate I’m never going to run out of his books to read.

I hope I didn’t reveal anything important in this novel; it is hard to write a review and say nothing. I also hope I’ve said enough to make people want to read The Explorer (and all of James Smythe’s novels). It is always great when you discover an author that writes the perfect books for your taste and I think I’ve found that here, I will try a few more novels but I feel confident. The Echo is the next book in this series, I believe there will be another two more as well but I felt like this worked well as a standalone novel. Highly recommend both The Explorer and The Machine and hope more people check out this great author.

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

Posted April 10, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 2 Comments

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel KayTitle: The Lions of Al-Rassan (Goodreads)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Published: Harper Voyager, 1995
Pages: 548
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Personal Copy

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The peninsula of Al-Rassan has been split into three kingdoms; formerly under Jaddite control and known as Esperana. The split between the three Jaddite factions in the north and some Asharite kingdoms in the south makes for a volatile relationship of political and religious indifferences. The book centres on three protagonists from different races; Jehane bet Ishak, a Kindath physician in Fezana; Rodrigo Belmonte, a Jaddite captain of a company of cavalry and Ammar ibn Khairan, an Asharite poet, mercenary,
and advisor to King Almalik of Cartada.

The major theme I found in this book was one of religious indifference; the three main kingdoms in this book are actually based on the three major religions, the Kindath, based on the Jews; the Asharites, based on the Muslims; and the Jaddites, based on the Christians. The problem I had with this novel, it becomes incredibly confusing and hard to keep up; you practically have to keep a graph to remember which person is from where and what religion they are based on. I think one of the hardest things with High Fantasy is that all the weird names, races and everything else makes it too confusing.

This is a really complex story and even without the religious metaphors, you still have to have wrap your head around the medical practices of Jehane bet Ishak and all the other physicians in Al-Rassan. As well as military strategies mentioned by Rodrigo Belmonte, Ammar ibn Khairan and King Almalik of Cartada, plus many more overly thought out issues that Guy Gavriel Kay decides to inject into this novel. Luckily this world is the basis of some of his books so while he loves his metaphors, all the world building should translate into his other books.

The world is based around Moorish Spain which helps put the architecture and people’s behaviours into perspective. Even some of the characters are based loosely on Moorish historical figures such as El Cid and Ibn Ammar. Historical fantasy is apparently the genre type for The Lions of Al-Rassan but I cannot say that I have ever heard of this genre type but with a little bit of research I have since found out it is a pretty common sub-genre. Blending elements of the historical into a high fantasy setting and sometimes adding a mystical thread, this genre mixes elements of alternative history but sets it in a completely different world (with common elements); One Thousand and One Nights being the most known novel within the genre.

While this really is not my type of novel, I sometimes felt like the plot was not moving fast enough and other times felt completely lost, The Lions of Al-Rassan somehow managed to keep me. I give full credit to Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing style; the language and the similes helped paint a beautiful scene and overall story. Then the conflict between Jews and Muslims and Christian metaphor was really what interested me the most and kept me going. While fantasy has never been a strong suit for me, it really felt like a template just to explore the author’s thoughts on something so complex and misunderstood as religion. You can see the similarities between the factions and exploring this volatile world from a military strategy perspective really spotlights the political roadblocks that stand in the way for harmony.

This really ended up being something much more than I expected. Proving high literature can be found in any genre. If I had the time and knowledge, I think this would be a great book to pick apart and explore, though that would require deep looks into the theology of the three religions, history of Moorish Spain as well as military strategies. I am sure there must be an academic out there that took the time to look at this book but for me, I just enjoyed my brief visit to the world of Al-Rassan.