Twins Tomas and Mira have devoted their lives to space exploration. When they win a crucial grant to send a mission to explore 'the anomaly', a rift in space that has opened up relatively near the Earth, they believe this research will be the making of their careers. Twenty-three years ago, a previous mission, the Ishiguro, disappeared while trying to make the same trip, but the twins are confident that their plans will succeed. Mira feels he has always stood in his brother's shadow, but he is the one chosen to go on the trip alongside a hand-picked crew, while Tomas stays behind, communicating via satellite link. However, even as the ship, the Lara, launches, there is a growing feeling that something has gone wrong, and this sense of unease deepens as the Lara proceeds on its quest.
The novel is so gripping that I sped through it in a couple of sittings, desperate to find out what would happen to Mira and his crew. I haven't read the first book in this quarter, The Explorer, but I didn't feel that this was a disadvantage when reading The Echo. In fact, I found myself wondering if the extensive references to what was obviously the plot of the previous book in the quartet, dealing with the loss of the Ishiguro, might be annoying if I had read The Explorer first, although it's difficult to tell. An amusing side-line (and there's precious little humour in this chilling read) was the twins' sense of superiority over the previous mission, and Mira continually tells the reader how much better prepared the Lara is for disasters. This, of course, is proven to be wrong when the crew encounter the anomaly for the first time. James Smythe makes much of the theme of doubling and repetition, the central pair of twins being the most obvious example, and I found his use of time loops incredibly effective in this context. Several reviewers have commented that the science in this novel is dodgy, and I'm sure they're right, but this didn't bother me because it seemed obvious that Smythe is using his space setting to say something interesting and thought-provoking about memory, time and attachment that he couldn't have said in a more realistic context. In this respect, it reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. (I did wonder if the name of the first mission was a nod to Ishiguro's distinctive blending of sci-fi motifs into literary fiction).
The narrative this sits closest to, however, is Danny Boyle's 2007 film Sunshine. The building tensions between the diverse crew and the knowledge that another mission has gone before them and failed makes the similarities very strong at times, although I felt that each of the stories was distinctive in its own right. However, if you enjoyed that film, you'll almost certainly enjoy this. Personally, I can't wait for the next in the quartet, and plan to read The Explorer as soon as I can get hold of a copy.