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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geekchicohio’s #CBR5 review #12: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

Abaddon’s Gate is the third (and most recently released, though not final) book in James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series. I could easily write at length about how Corey (the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) writes in a style that reads like a Blockbuster (as you’d also know from the io9.com blurb on the novel’s cover) and how much of a fantastic page turner it is, and about what a great balance of action and humor and dread these books strike, but I feel I’ve done a lot of that in my reviews of its predecessors Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War. I want to, instead, talk about what sets this book apart. Continue reading

geekchicohio’s #CBR5 Review #11: Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

As I’ve fallen further and further behind in my Half-Cannonball this year I’ve been saved from absolute embarrassment time and time again by books that leapt out at me not from my “TO READ” pile, but from somewhere else.

Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey, the second book in “The Expanse” series is a book that simply demanded I read it, and it was right. Well-paced, occasionally funny, often terrifying, and action packed, the book is a worthy follow-up to Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. This series is so much fun, in fact, that I had to make the Cannonball-conscious decision to put down it’s successor and write this review.

Caliban’s War picks up a year or so after the events of Leviathan Wake‘s, as our swashbuckling heroes are working a contract for the half-government half-terrorist organization of the Outer Planets Alliance. Jim Holden, Captain of the stolen Martian missile corvette Rocinante, is a changed man–and not for the better.

A strange event on Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, precipitates a shooting war between Earth and Mars. Soon the solar system’s best chance at ending the violence is the clear head of foul-mouthed Chrisjen Avasarala, Assistant to to the Undersecretary of Executive Administration at the Earth UN, and her new bodyguard and assistant Gunnery Sargeant Bobbie Draper of the Martian Marine Corps. That is, if Holden doesn’t fuck things up first.

Meanwhile the human face of the Ganymede incident is Dr. Praxidike Meng, whose quest to find his missing daughter will bring all these characters together, and who may hold the key to what happened on Ganymede, and whether it spells the end of humanity.

I don’t know that I would recommend this book without reading its predecessor first, and Leviathan Wakes is fantastic, but as a part of The Expanse series Caliban’s War is a really fun read. The two writers who together are James S. A. Corey have found an insanely entertaining formula for sci-fi fun.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #25: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan WakesTarget: James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

The Expanse has received a lot of attention, mostly from other authors, for being a fresh take on space-based science fiction.  The books have also received high praise for their cinematic fight sequences and politically charged plot lines.  The books are each fairly lengthy, sitting well over the 500 page mark, but manage to feel like much shorter novels thanks to brisk pacing and strong, dynamic characters.

In spite of the ‘space opera’ tag, the stories of The Expanse are really more like war stories, having more in common with John Scalzi than they do with Iain M. Banks or Alastair Reynolds.  The scope of the setting is mostly limited to the solar system and there isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become associated with New Wave Space Opera.  Instead, The Expanse feels like older styles of space opera that focused more on combat, and the brave actions of courageous soldiers against overwhelming odds and the threat of the unknown.

Read the rest of the review…

geekchicohio’s #CBR5 Review #8: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

The first book of “The Expanse” Series,  Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey is a scifi/space opera story set in the period after mankind takes to the solar system but before it spreads out to the stars beyond our own. The book’s two protagonists, Holden and Miller, come from this in-between version of mankind: spectacularly advanced but also wholly recognizable.

In the solar system of Leviathan Wakes has been colonized by billions, political power is spread unevenly between Earth, Mars, and the far-flung colonies of the Asteroid Belt and outer planetary moons. Though each party has their own needs and wants, they remain more or less interdependent and antagonistic. When Holden’s motley crew of ice miners stumble into a mysterious derelict ship, the chain reaction threatens the entire balance of the system.

Meanwhile, on Ceres Station, one of the most populated dots in the Asteroid Belt, Detective Miller is assigned a kidnap job–track down the missing daughter of some Luna-based bigwigs. Miller’s search leads him to where his bosses would rather he didn’t go, and eventually across Holden’s path. Together they try to avert a war, or something much, much worse.

Leviathan Wakes reads like a summer blockbuster. It’s quick-witted and perfectly paced, and the sci-fi elements strike the perfect balance between fantastical as hell, and hard enough to make sense and stay out of the way. The book is also occasionally terrifying. Not just thematically, but in specifically describing scenes and events that you’ll have trouble shaking.

Pick it up for the thrills, stay for the incredible world building, the humor, and the insanely fun (and just plain insane) rabbit hole mystery. I’ve been lagging far, far behind on my CBR-ing lately, but pretty much from the time this book came into my possession until the time that I finished it I could. not. put. it. down. Definitely check it out.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 17: Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

Goodreads: “We are not alone.

The alien protomolecule is clear evidence of an intelligence beyond human reckoning. No one knows what exactly is being built on Venus, but whatever it is, it is vast, powerful, and terrifying.

When a creature of unknown origin and seemingly impossible physiology attacks soldiers on Ganymede, the fragile balance of power in the Solar System shatters. Now, the race is on to discover if the protomolecule has escaped Venus, or if someone is building an army of super-soldiers.
Jim Holden is the center of it all. In spite of everything, he’s still the best man for the job to find out what happened on Ganymede. Either way, the protomolecule is loose and Holden must find a way to stop it before war engulfs the entire system.”

This sequel to Leviathan Wakes picks up some time after that book leaves off, following the same central characters and adding a few new ones. I had really enjoyed the first book, and I have to say, I think I like this one even better. Any criticisms I have of this book are essentially the same as those that I had of the first: namely, that it could have benefited from a bit of editing for length and that the dialogue was sometimes a bit pedestrian. Otherwise, I think that the story here moves even more quickly than it did in Leviathan Wakes, even considering the addition of  three more character POVs. Part of the improvement in pacing, I think, comes from the fact that the interspersed character stories, though starting out in different places, were more apparently related right off the bat and converged more quickly.

Our new friends are Prax, a biologist, Avasarala, a UN bigwig, and Bobbie, a Martian foot soldier. Avasarala and Bobbie, particularly, provide insight into the upper levels of the political drama and intrigue of the “inner planets” (Earth and Mars) that was only hinted at in the former novel. These perspectives added complexity to the overall galactic drama by indicating that there are more opposing factions than just inner vs. outer planets; rather, as one might expect, there are groups within the governments on Earth and Mars with their own secretive agendas.

I don’t know that I have too much else to say about this one, because despite it being great, it is a sequel, so I probably have to sell you on Leviathan Wakes first. And then if you like it, definitely pick this one up!

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 02: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Goodreads summary: “Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach. 

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations in the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why. 

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that the girl might be the key to everything. 

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Read a review for this on CBR4, and thought “Aha! A space opera! I MUST read this!” I was not disappointed. Main complaints first: it was a bit unnecessarily long. There were a few chapters that, in my eyes, advanced neither the character development nor the plot. Also, and this may have been just my personal preference, but I was a lot more interested in the Holden chapters than in the Miller chapters. I’ve heard the “former superstar detective fallen from grace” narrative enough times at this point that Miller is essentially a stock character, so while I appreciate the effort to give him dimension, those parts of the story dragged in the first half. Finally, I felt that the dialogue was a bit rote and sometimes lacked finesse. To be fair, though, that’s kind of a snooty criticism, because my impression is that our main characters are mostly working-class, and more to the point, they are “Belters.” Whether raised in the Belt or relocated there, the people are depicted as being generally rough around the edges and not overly concerned with Earth and Mars standards of decorum.

All that said, I still raced through this. The book had a lot to balance: politics between interplanetary governments, sociological considerations among humans who’ve adapted to different planets, interpersonal relationships, and the central mystery that drove the plot forward. For a “space opera,” the scope here is still relatively small; everything takes place within our solar system. I found this intriguing, as it suggested at a plausible less-distant future. Idiomatic and physical differences between planetary “races” are given consideration as to how the characters interact and perceive each other, and there are realistic (and relevant) discussions of the effects of different levels of gravity on the human body. Though sci-fi is often allegorical, with its more imaginative events and concepts paralleling our real-world issues, this book felt even more immediately relevant.

Leviathan Wakes is equal parts noir, horror, science fiction, and classic drama. It doesn’t shy away from gruesome description in some parts, and it depicts a range of realistic human responses to the atrocities portrayed. I also, personally, enjoyed the gender politics. A lot of the “classic” sci-fi falls really short in this aspect (see: my upcoming review for Foundation) and is, unfortunately, a massive obstacle in my overall enjoyment. I mean, you create this whole universe and can’t imagine equality in it? But I digress; Leviathan Wakes avoids similar pitfalls. Overall, I’d recommend this. I think it’s great modern sci-fi, and I understand that (like everything else) it’s part of a series, so I’ll probably be picking up the next installment.