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“Abaddon’s Gate” by James S.A. Corey

Abaddons Gate

I enjoyed the first two books in “The Expanse” series, but I did feel that the second book felt a bit like a partial retread of the first book and didn’t add many new ideas. Fortunately, “Abaddon’s Gate” makes up for that by bringing in some welcome new ideas and plotlines.

The book opens with a fleet of ships from the solar system’s various rival powers (plus, inevitably, the crew of the Rocinante) warily investigating a strange structure the alien protomolecule has constructed in the outer reaches of the solar system. The object is clearly a giant gate to some other place but where it leads is unclear and the various ships are reluctant to make their way through but the narrative demands that they end up venturing through even if the way it happens is a bit unexpected. James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have other ideas and would rather be anywhere else but someone in the fleet with revenge on their mind hatches a plan that forces them through the gate.

I’ve always had a fondness for Science Fiction novels involving exploring the unknown and this is a good example of the subgenre. Initially it’s impossible to know what they’ll find on the other side of the gate but some (although not all) of its mysteries are gradually revealed through the book.

One of the main strengths of the book is how the different factions- Earth, Mars, the Outer Planets Alliance and Holden’s crew – are all mutually out of their depth and as they face an increasingly desperate struggle for survival in a hostile environment they are forced to work together despite in some cases having recently fought a war against each other. Even in such a situation some of the people on the ships can’t stop scheming and trying to dominate their rivals leading to some tense and claustrophobic scenes as a battle begins for control of the fleet.

Thankfully there’s no corporate conspiracy to develop new weaponry or a search for a missing person, those were plotlines that worked very well in Leviathan Wakes, but after the similar plotlines in Caliban’s War it is nice to see a completely different plot.

There are plenty of ideas and plenty of action in the book, but the strongest element is probably the characters. The crew of the Rocinante continue to be entertaining characters to follow, even if Holden’s conviction that he always knows the right thing to do can sometimes get irritating for both the other characters and the reader. The vengeance-obsessed Clara is an interesting antagonist, particularly when she becomes increasingly conflicted about what she is doing. After the cynical greed of the villains in the first two novels she is a good having contrast, since she has clearly been unhinged by some traumatic events into becoming fixated on punishing Holden and his crew for their perceived transgressions, and she experiences the most character development as she gradually becomes more aware of the consequences of her actions. Sadly, there’s no return for Avasarala, the best character in the previous book, but the two other new point of view characters are both interesting. Methodist pastor Anna might challenge Holden in terms of the strength of her conviction about doing the right thing but unlike Holden she does try to persuade others to her point of view and I think she is a another compelling character, particularly as she tries to take a role of mediator as the situation becomes increasingly chaotic. Like Avasarala she’s a good example of how a character can shape events by influencing the people making the decisions, although she is sometimes forced out of her comfort zone into taking action herself. The final major new character is the OPA’s security chief, Bull, who is in some ways a successor to Miller from Leviathan Wakes, a character who is trying to fulfil his mission and protect his ship even if it means he has to do some hard and ruthless things. There are also a number of interesting supporting characters, although one who ends up being one of the main antagonists to Holden and his crew does develop into a bit of a caricature.

Overall, I think this is an excellent piece of Space Opera that’s the best novel in a series that was already good.

Rating : 8.5 / 10


“Caliban’s War” by James S.A. Corey

Calibans War

I thought Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the Expanse series, was a very entertaining Space Opera and the first sequel, Caliban’s War, is a good follow-up even if it probably falls slightly short of the first novel. Although Leviathan Wakes would have worked fairly well as a stand-alone novel it did leave a major issue unresolved in terms of the protomolecule colonising Venus. Perhaps surprisingly this part of the plot is largely kept in the background in this book (presumably the later books in the series will explore this in more detail), with the main plotline focusing on the attempts of corporations and governments to explore the military potential of the alien biology of the protomolecule.

The book opens with an attention-grabbing action sequence as a base on Ganymede is attacked by a monstrous figure with near-superhuman abilities. As the colony on the moon descends into chaos a scientist desperately searches for his missing infant daughter and his quest to rescue her is the main plotline for the book. The scientist, Prax, makes up one of the three new point-of-view characters in the book along with Martian marine Bobbie (the only survivor of the attack in the prologue) and scheming politician Avarsala, joining the returning Captain Holden who, after a chance meeting, ends up helping Prax try to find out what happened to his daughter. I thought that the cynical detective Miller was the best character in the first book and his absence does hurt the second book. Out of the three characters replacing Miller’s chapters I think only Avarsala is as interesting as Miller was, while Prax and Bobbie are both likeable characters they are both fairly straightforward characters without the ambiguous mix of idealism and ruthless pragmatism that makes Miller and Avarsala such interesting characters. Holden is also a likeable character, but his naivety feels a bit overdone at times and it does feel slightly implausible that he yet again manages to stumble into the middle of a huge corporate conspiracy.

The book is probably at its best in the action scenes, an unexpected stowaway on Holden’s ship might be the highlight but the climactic battle is also entertaining. The theme of corporate and government greed leading to inhuman acts in the pursuit of profit and military dominance is repeated from the first novel and although the largely faceless corporations make plausible villains there is a lack of a really memorable antagonist. Holden’s decision to help one man look for his daughter while an entire colony falls apart is believable in terms of his character, although it does occasionally feel a bit like the crew of the Rocinante are turning into a Space Opera version of the A-Team, which may be fun to read but it does feel like the book could have aspired to be more than that.

This is an entertaining read but it does largely feel as if it is marking time before the main plot about the protomolecule on Venus comes to the fore again in the sequels (the epilogue strongly implies that this plotline will become the focus of the next book). It’s an enjoyable space opera but to some extent feels like a partial retread of some of the material covered by the first book in the series.

Rating : 7.5 / 10


“Leviathan Wakes” by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes

James Holden is an idealistic ex-military officer on a mining ship who stumbles across a dangerous mystery when investigating a derelict ship drifting in space. Detective Miller is a cynical and corrupt policeman stationed on an asteroid colony who is hired to look for a missing young woman and finds himself increasingly determined to find out the cause of her disappearance. When both the abandoned ship and Miller’s case turn out to be connected Holden and Miller both find themselves dealing with dangerous secrets that could threaten the entire solar system.

The book is a collaboration between Daniel Abraham and debut author Ty Franks, I wouldn't have said it was obvious that it was written by two authors and their writing does seem fairly consistent throughout. Abraham has been one of the best new fantasy authors of recent years (his “Long Price” series being particularly good) and it’s to Franks’ credit that his chapters are comparable in quality to those written by his more experienced co-author. The quality of the writing is good throughout, and I thought the pacing was good as well. It doesn't take long for the plot to become interesting and it does a good job of increasing the amount that is at stake in successive increments, starting from what appears to be a simple act of piracy and ending with the future of humanity at stake. It does also tell a complete story, even if there is plenty of potential for plots for the later books in the series.

I thought the characterisation was also good, although the two main point-of-view characters get a lot more character development than the rest of the cast. The alternating point-of-views worked well, particularly in showing the different ways in which Holden and Miller deal with crises and it was particularly interesting to see how one main character appeared from the perspective of the other. Miller’s abrupt way of dealing with problems provides some of the book’s most memorable moments.

I liked the setting as well, most space opera stories seem to span several star systems but in Leviathan Wakes humanity is confined to the solar system due to the lack of faster-the-light travel. I thought it was a fairly plausible-sounding portrayal of how humanity would colonise the solar system, although in some places it could have done with a bit more detail (we never really hear much about what motivates the Earth or Martian governments even though it has quite a bit of relevance for the plot, but maybe we will in later books). It does a good job of conveying the claustrophobia and the perilousness of life on an asteroid colony. It does have a slightly old-fashioned feel to it and couldn’t really be said to be at the cutting-edge of Science Fiction writing, but there’s nothing wrong with a good, traditional Space Opera.

Overall, I thought this was a very good Science Fiction novel, particularly considering it is the first novel for one of the co-authors.

Rating : 8 / 10