On my iPhone, I made a note to myself to buy and read The Echo by James Smythe. I don’t recall why I did this. I don’t recall when I did this. But I can tell you that I followed through with my note to self.
I’m delighted I did. I should listen to my sage advice more often.
James Smythe is a British author of considerable talent. The Echo is his third book, and the second in what he calls “The Anomaly” quartet. Book one of the series is The Explorer. It appears to be out of print, but it is available on the Kindle.
A blurb on the back of The Echo calls it a mix of Philip K. Dick and David Mitchell. I find that to be misleading. There’s none of the mad imagination of PKD or the emotional twisting of David Mitchell present in this book. I think a better comparison would be Stanislaw Lem and Jose Saramago.
Despite being the second book in the quartet, The Echo stands alone. I had no clue it was book two until I finished and dug around for more information about the author. An anomaly has been found some 10 million miles away from Earth. It is a void of color, sound, and form. Satellites sent to explore the anomaly malfunction and are never heard from again. An exploration crew was sent and never heard from again (apparently, this crew’s story is the plot of book one). Twenty-three years later, a pair of identical twin geniuses, Mira and Thomas, are able to convince a wealthy conglomerate of investors to finance another exploration plot when it is discovered that the anomaly is growing in size (thus becoming a potential danger to Earth).
Mira leads the crew while Thomas provides ground support. Despite minor setbacks, Mira and crew reach the anomaly. Things go sideways soon after. The last third of the novel breaks off from a solid action-adventure mode to full-on philosophical musings by Mira. The book does not contain a tidy ending…it’s a bit trippy (not full-blown 2001: Space Odyssey trippy, thankfully). Ultimately, I was pleased by how Smythe wrapped up matters.
There is a lot to digest in The Echo. James Smythe tackles some heavy themes: duality, empathy and compassion, reality vs. the unreal, interpersonal dynamics, and so on. It is after reading a book like this that I wish I had paid better attention in my Introduction to Philosophy course back in college.
This is some quality “science fiction makes you think” stuff.
I consider The Echo to be a science fiction analog Jeff VanderMeer’s fantastic weird/fantasy Area X trilogy. It doesn’t surprise me that it is paired with Annihilation in my Amazon suggestions.
You like challenging dark science fiction? Then try The Echo.