alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 62: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

Goodreads: “For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of

Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.”

I’ve really enjoyed the three books so far in the Expanse series: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate. Where the first set the pace, tone, and foundation for the series in a way that was already epic in scale, the latter two have somehow continued to build on that promise by introducing more narrative lead characters and new high-stakes conflict without letting the story run away from itself. Despite the expansion of character profiles and deeper exploration of those characters’ motivations, the core group we were introduced to in the first book — James Holden and his crew — remain central to the story, thereby anchoring us to a heart of the tale that we’ve grown familiar with and attached to.

Abaddon’s Gate contains a classic redemption tale, a frame-job, and the possibility of massive war among two superpowers, a lesser alliance, and an unknown alien foe that is likely to crush everyone and annihilate humanity in the blink of an eye. Our hero, James Holden, also talks to ghosts and even goes on a one-man mission as an emissary to the alien would-be demolitionists because that’s what the ghost tells him to do. The book rarely takes a moment to breathe, but the slower chapters reinforce the emotional stakes and passion — sometimes quiet, sometimes imbued with burning rage — that drive the characters.

Also remarkable in the series is the way that each book feels, in a way, like a standalone: there are no cliffhangers and the individual stories therein are resolved; however, the resolution sets up a backdrop for what may become the main source of tension in the next book, or the one after. Leviathan Wakes saw the emergence of a dangerous, little-understood alien protomolecule that, by the end, was seemingly dispatched into the inhospitable environment of Venus, therefore saving Earth from destruction. Caliban’s War showed the protomolecule quietly taking over Venus and exhibiting feats of impossible physics, worrying everyone to death over what its next move would be. Abaddon’s Gate reveals what the next move was, and though, again, the immediate conflict was solved, the possibility for major catastrophe still lurks in another form entirely. And none of that takes into account the political and personal struggles of the humans themselves, which could themselves be a collection of compelling and suspenseful stories.

The Expanse series is space opera at its finest. The prose isn’t the most sophisticated, but it’s tightly written and consistently entertaining. Even sci-fi novices could enjoy these books, I think, since they’re not overly jammed with techie jargon and high-concept gimmicks. If you’re put off because it’s set in space, don’t be. The plots are steeped in classic noir and suspense, with war games thrown in for good measure. Highly recommended.

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Malin’s #CBR5 review #101: The Manhattan Projects, vol 1: Science. Bad. by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

What if all the scientists working on the Manhattan project during the 1930s and 40s were actually super scientists, many of them with special abilities as well as their super genius? What if the Einstein of our world was actually replaced by a more sinister version from another dimension? What if Oppenheimer was actually so brilliant because he killed and ate people to acquire their knowledge and abilities, carrying with him their personalities, constantly warring within him?

This comic pre-supposes that the atomic bomb was only a tiny and fairly insignificant side project for these scientists, and that inter-dimensional portals, worm holes, space exploration, telepathy and the like were much more in their purview. Creating an artificial intelligence and using the body of the dead Franklin D. Roosevelt to channel it. That sort of thing. More on my blog.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #48: Icons by Margaret Stohl

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This is the third YA book dealing with aliens that I have read this year. It’s officially the new thing. Icons was pretty good, but definitely places third. It’s about a society where aliens landed and set up a hierarchy so most of humanity is enslaved, but a select few rule in the aliens’ stead. Obviously, the enslaved don’t care for this and so a rebellion is forming, centered around the Icon Children.

You can read my full review here, along with a memorial to a very special fictional pig.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #41: In the After by Demitria Lunetta

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It seems as though aliens are an emerging trend in YA lit. I loved The 5th Wave, but In the After was just as good. It centers on a teenager named Amy living in seclusion with a younger girl she found, who she calls Baby. They live completely in silence so that they don’t attract the attentions of Them, the green aliens who eat humans alive.

Anyways, this book was excellent. You can read my review here.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #34: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

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Apparently, aliens are the YA topic of the summer. The bookstore where I work did a big push for this book, even gave away samples. I saw promos all over Goodreads, and there was a glowing review in Entertainment Weekly. Truthfully, The 5th Wave did live up to the hype. It’s the story of the aftermath of an alien invasion. Most of humankind has been killed off, and those who are left don’t know who they can trust, because the aliens…are inside us.

There’s really great characters and the book is full of action. I didn’t realize that aliens were the new trend, but I’m about halfway through another YA book featuring alien invasion (In the After) that comes out later in June.

You can read my full review here.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 16: Ghost Planet by Sharon Fisher

Goodreads summary: Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world—a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she’d struggle with the requirement to shun these “ghosts.” She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet. 

As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence. 

But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man that she loves.

This book was the April selection for the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, so I picked it up expectantly… and literally didn’t put it down until about 9 hours later once I’d read it completely. Thank god I work in an isolated space, because I am ashamed to admit that I took a holiday at my desk yesterday and was completely absorbed in this book. Sharon Fisher, I blame you for rising workplace delinquency! Kind of.

Anyway, let me get a few nitpicks out of the way, with the acknowledgement that for some people who have been discussing Ghost Planet on Goodreads, they are more than minor nitpicks. I did feel that the worldbuilding was a little lacking — the planet is described as having taken on ecological characteristics similar to Earth in order to be pretty recognizable to the colonists. In one sense, this is a nice shorthand, since we can fairly easily imagine a less populated, less polluted Earth. On the other hand, it functions to deprive us of what could have been some more thoughtful descriptions of the planet and the process of that adaptation, and more detail about the settlements that the colonists live in. Another related issue, which may be more due to its ‘sci-fi lite’ status than to a unique deficiency of this book, is that outside of the special attention paid to Elizabeth’s particular research (which I’ll get to later,) the futuristic technology which enables the colonization of this planet (e.g. space travel, any terraforming concerns?) and that which is used by the colonists (flat-reader) is given no description practically at all. If I had to guess, a “flat-reader” is a tablet computer, but why not just call it a tablet, unless it’s actually a futuristic descendent of a tablet? In which case, what makes it so? Anyway, little things like that make the sci-fi geek in me wish there was a little more in the way of techie detail.

At the end of the day, though, if an original concept and a well-paced plot that do that concept justice are set in front of me, I am going to completely forget about other minor concerns and just love the shit out of a book. And that’s basically what happened. I loved the main character, both as a personality and as a scientist. I read a lot of doom-and-gloom dystopia that tends to paint scientists as misanthropic megalomaniacs with unethical aspirations toward human purity or genetic cleansing, so it was refreshing to have a protagonist who is as empathetic as she is pragmatic. She actually explicitly employs the scientific method, which is pretty darn cool: she has a hypothesis, gathers data to support it, but also considers other possibilities and doesn’t reject them until she has absolutely enough evidence to do so. Not surprisingly, a character like this reasons well with others and builds a totally believable team of support, both from secondary characters and from me, who really wanted her to succeed in love and life!

I really highly recommend this. It was addictive and a great mix of psycho-biological drama and romance, and a really promising debut novel from this author.