Review: The Echo / Author: James Smythe / Publisher: Harper Voyager / Release Date: January 16th
A sequel to The Explorer, this book serves as a follow-up to the events of that book and a second expedition to study a mysterious starborne entity known as the Anomaly. It has been twenty years since the last manned expedition encountered it, yet their new efforts to study the object will cost them far more than anyone knows.
Even before getting to the subject of the first person perspective from which the story is told, The Echo is neither an easy-going nor joyful tale. Bleak, mysterious and clinical, the atmosphere of the tale more resembles that of 2001: A Space Odyssey than the average Star Trek episode. The novel ultimately takes its time to try and set up life on-board the ship and building the world around it prior to launch.
While some may be put off by the glacial pace, it skilfully sets an effective tone which makes the shift to the mind-bending unnatural force of the Anomaly that much more disturbing. Few books manage to achieve this sudden shift effectively, but by setting up the events to come it allows the change to feel not as jarring or out of place as it otherwise might. The terse nature of protagonist Mirakel Hyvönen’s thoughts definitely assists, offering often minimal details of the environments and taking note of few things in any great depth. While this would often be a weakness, the absence of lengthy descriptions and arguments makes the sudden focus on the Anomaly all the more engrossing. The same goes for the semi-realistic portrayal of space travel, with enough accuracy to maintain a feeling of naturalism to contrast with what follows.
This isn’t to say the tale is without any human element. Mira’s twin brother Tomas and the crew of the vessel serve as good foils for his own thoughts, giving more emotion to the tale than would be offered by Mira alone. Unfortunately none of them are especially complex. Furthermore, for all the time spent on the initial set-up, the book feels as if it requires its previous instalment to fill out certain details surrounding the world it portrays.
Another significant problem is a conclusion that leaves much unanswered, one that might well frustrate some readers. Yet, while The Echo's flaws are obvious, so are its strengths. As an intelligent sci-fi odyssey it holds up extremely well, but it won’t appeal to everyone.