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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Explorers of the New Century

Magnus Mills

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To purchase Explorers of the New Century

Title: Explorers of the New Century
Author: Magnus Mills
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 184 pages
Availability: Explorers of the New Century - US
Explorers of the New Century - UK
Explorers of the New Century - Canada
Die Entdecker des Jahrhunderts - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice twist, nice approach

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2006 Shelley Jackson
FAZ . 27/12/2008 .
The Guardian . 24/9/2005 Jem Poster
The Independent A 16/9/2005 Nicholas Royle
Independent on Sunday . 28/8/2005 Christopher Fowler
The LA Times . 26/2/2006 Susan Salter Reynolds
NZZ . 6/11/2008 Friedhelm Rathjen
Salon . 30/3/2006 Laura Miller
Sunday Times . 18/9/2005 David Grylls
The Telegraph A- 28/8/2005 James Flint
The Telegraph . 27/11/2005 David Robson
TLS B+ 16/9/2005 Mike Brett

  Review Consensus:

  Very mixed reactions (and a variety of interpretations)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Paradoxically, Explorers disappoints by giving us exactly what we are looking for: answers." - Shelley Jackson, Bookforum

  • "Magnus Mills glaubt man ohnehin alles, was er erzählt." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Strong on topographical detail but carefully reticent about location, it maps out territory in an alternative universe closely related to our own yet not quite identical with it. (...) But whereas the earlier book works subtly and consistently towards its disquieting conclusion, Explorers of the New Century introduces the theme belatedly, arbitrarily and with a hint of desperation. It's difficult to avoid the suspicion that the author, like his characters, isn't quite sure where he's going." - Jem Poster, The Guardian

  • "There are other such Blackadder moments, but the great appeal of Explorers of the New Century has more to do with funny-peculiar than funny-ha-ha. (...) Mills, an economical writer in an age of windbags, is also generous, scattering clues, encouraging the reader to work things out before he spells them out. You get to feel clever; Mills is cleverer by half, but never clever-clever. Alternative history, science fantasy, allegory, fable: there are moments when you think Explorers of the New Century could be any of these. It's all of them and yet none, enormous fun and deceptively profound." - Nicholas Royle, The Independent

  • "Mills has spotted and identified a great particularity of humankind that seems to have been barely written about: the sheer impossibility of any utopian ideal, thanks to the inability of ordinary decent people to do what's best for them. The effortless banality of the prose belies its painstaking construction and cruel purpose. So stripped is it of time, place, social climate or anything that might signify deeper meaning, that the onus is on the reader to draw conclusions, and the ones we draw feel increasingly sinister." - Christopher Fowler, Independent on Sunday

  • "Mills writes like a raven: keen, mischievous, plain and lofty." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Mills ist ein Minimalist, der nur das Nötigste sagt, und dies in klaren, knappen Sätzen; jeder Satz für sich ist wunderbar verständlich -- in der Summe freilich ergeben die Sätze eine irrsinnige Alogik, wie sie nur Magnus Mills zustande bringt." - Friedhelm Rathjen, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The aforementioned point has much to do with the treachery of language, especially written language, and most especially the kind of hard, spare, polished "concrete" prose of literary realism. We think we're getting the bare bones of experience -- in the case of our explorers, experience at its most fundamental -- but we are oh so sadly deluded about that. And by extension, Mills impishly suggests, we might just be equally deluded about ourselves." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "As the book travels from the fatuous to the alarming, a fabular structure begins to emerge, hinting that themes of empire and exploitation, slavery and segregation, are being explored. Although the book remains teasingly vague, a political subtext surfaces. (...) But while the novel undoubtedly harbours darker elements, its most successful mode is deadpan humour." - David Grylls, Sunday Times

  • "But all is not what it seems. What begins as a mildly diverting satire on Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole gradually turns into a nightmarish broadside against the structures of accepted morality. (...) This is a book you need to be surprised by. It's therefore a book that is almost impossible to review. (...) His is a true moral vision, and is demonstrated as such by the fact he never succumbs to the temptation to moralise." - James Flint, The Telegraph

  • "The first two-thirds of the novel is terrific stuff: a sharply observed satire of emotionally repressed men coping with extreme physical danger. (...) What a shame that Mills should then make two cardinal blunders. First, he reveals in more detail than the narrative requires the objective of the two expeditions." - David Robson, The Telegraph

  • "By denying us the comforting signposts of a particular historical or geographical setting, Mills evokes the teams' disorientation as they struggle through uncharted territory. The novel's lack of fixedness also serves the purpose of removing the tale to the realm of allegory. (...) Mills has written a modern fable of depth and insight. In parts, however, the text seems crowded with competing meanings, and the characters appear little more than ciphers. (...) Magnus Mills's novel is a challenging and skilful piece of writing, more likely to appeal to the meditative than raise the pulse of armchair adventurers." - Mike Brett, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Explorers of the New Century is set in a time of gentlemen-explorers. Two expeditions set out with the same destination and objective. One, a group of what are apparently Englishmen, led by Johns, is manned entirely by volunteers, the other, Scandinavian-sounding expedition, led by Tostig, a more professional group. Their approach to travel and what to lug along is different -- though each does have a pack of mules -- and it appears much like the great expeditions of a hundred years ago or so -- the race to the South Pole and the like, or the attempt to determine the source of the Nile.
       They go by ship to a desolate and inhospitable area of the world -- travelling in winter, no less, and losing sunlight even during the daytime for much of their voyage -- and set out from nearly the same point at nearly the same time. They choose two different paths, but both groups want to reach the same place, and while they claim it isn't a race each is eager to be first, knowing that there's glory and fame to be found in being first.
       The goal and destination aren't immediately clear; indeed, exactly what is going on here only slowly comes into focus. But they are enthusiastic:

The Agreed Furthest Point ! Even the name of it spells adventure ! No one has ever been there before and it's the opportunity of a lifetime !
       What this Agreed Furthest Point -- the AFP -- is furthest from is civilisation, and it turns out the explorers have what they believe to be a very good reason for going there. Indeed, it's the basis for a much-anticipated project that much of the world apparently deems essential.
       Mills writes in a straightforward style, and the story that unfolds seems a picture of normality -- albeit in unusual circumstances -- for quite a while. In alternating chapters the slow advance of the two expeditions is described, each with its different way of doing things, from sleeping arrangements and the distribution of food to how punishment is meted out. But this is a Magnus Mills novel, and first impressions are, of course, deceiving: these expeditions aren't normal at all.
       The twist to the novel is a very dark and creepy turn indeed. A bit much rides on it, but it's dark enough to sustain it -- just. Midway through one suddenly sees everything in a completely different light; it works quite well, though perhaps not quite well enough.
       Part of the fun is how the strain of the expeditions affects the superficial order and imposed propriety; by the end, almost nothing (but especially among Johns' lot) is going the way it should. At its edges and extremes, civilisation and civilised behaviour prove not so much hard to maintain as having less than formidable foundations. Appearances can, for the most, be kept up (leading to some amusing absurdity), but there's a good deal that is called into question. Mills understated approach, with what moralising there is put in the mouths of the characters (convincingly enough), drives the point home nicely. It's not quite to devastating effect, but it is clever enough.
       It's an odd novel, requiring some patience but worthwhile in the end. Mills' trick of only slowly revealing essential information -- which the characters are all well aware of from the start -- puts something of a strain on the narrative, especially since the story continues for quite a ways after the central conceit has been revealed (whereas, say, on the Twilight Zone that would have only come with the final scene). Still, he does quite well with it. Worthwhile.

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Explorers of the New Century: Reviews: Magnus Mills: Other books by Magnus Mills under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of contemporary British fiction under review
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       British author Magnus Mills was born in 1954. He has written several novels.

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© 2005-2012 the complete review

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