on 18 August 2012
Perhaps despite myself, I was a huge fan of the first book in this series. No FTL travel? Humanity stuck in the home system? It all just seemed a bit, well... parochial. More 'space soap' than 'space opera'. But then I actually read it and it wasn't parochial at all - it was genius. Believable characters, interesting plot, snappy dialogue, and everything coming together to make a proper sci-fi yarn.
So I was naturally interested to read this follow-up - and it doesn't disappoint. The newer characters are all engaging, the plot is at least as interesting as in the first book, and the quality of the writing is high. It's possible that I enjoyed the first book more, but I think that's only really because the first book was such a surprise find. I read an enormous amount of sci-fi - lots of it less than stellar - but these books are well worth the attention of even the very occasional sci-fi fan.
I actually rather hate the prominence of series in sci-fi - it smacks of a lack of creativity, or of barely masked greed at the expense of creativity. But when it's done well, as it is here, it can be a real pleasure. If I hadn't already started, I might prefer to have waited to start these books until all 3 were out (because I absolutely hate waiting for sequels), but I'd heartily recommend this series to anyone and everyone who likes a good read.
on 6 July 2012
Having picked up the first book on a whim and being absolutely blown away by its wonderful combination of human characters, touches of hard sci-fi (there's very little hand-wavium in any of the technologies throughout) and far-reaching scope, I jumped on this second instalment.
It delivers the same excellent pacing, the same humanity to the characters - their doubts, opinions, weaknesses, strengths, developments - that reminded me of the hugely enjoyable chemistry in Joss Whedon's "Firefly". It's rare that an author has the dedication to stick to newtonian physics throughout without resorting to artificial gravity, but little touches like that keep the universe consistent and grounded in a way that sci-fi can often lose to high concepts or low-brow flash. Also, unstoppable space zombies that may or may not eat planets. What a fantastic combination ^_^
I would strongly recommend this series; it's hugely enjoyable, well crafted and stands out from the Banks and Asimov that I've been reading recently as a gem of unadulterated pleasure.
Can hardly wait for the next in the series!
Following straight on from the tumultuous events of the first book of the trilogy, this instalment charts the progress of the mysterious evolving consciousness now established on Venus through the eyes of the main protagonists. Jim Holden and his crew are joined by Prax, a botanist from Ganymede searching for his abducted daughter while on Earth Avasarala, a top Earth government official aided by Bobby, a Martian marine from Ganymede, struggles against political in-fighting and military duplicity to avert the latest threat posed by the exploitation of the protomolecule by another sociopathic corporation. It's impossible to describe events in any greater detail without spoiling the plot, but suffice to say the yarn just piles along at a cracking rate with unexpected little plot twists at every turn. The political intrigue in the Avasarala thread is almost a welcome counterpoint to the frenetic pace of the other narratives but without deadening the overall tempo and it serves to nicely expand the scope of the tale.
A book of this size (about 600 trade format, small print pages) would usually take me ages to finish but I gobbled it up in less than two weeks and, if I hadn't had to sleep and work & do boring things like that, I would have read it in one sitting. It is totally engrossing with an easy, light & witty style - a very rare quality in modern science fiction. The Shakespearian reference to Caliban (the monstrous, barely human resident on the island setting of `The Tempest') is a fine literary allusion which only makes sense at the very last page; nice touch. I sincerely hope we don't have to wait too long for book three (Abaddon's Gate) to round off the trilogy; I'm not sure I can stand the suspense...
An alien protomolocule has taken root on Venus. Earth and Mars are in a shooting match over an incident on Ganymede. The Solar system is moving towards all-out anarchy and war, and it falls to a well-meaning meddler, a canny politician, a Martian marine and a grief-stricken botanist to try to stop the descent into madness.
Caliban's War is the second novel in The Expanse series, following on from last year's well-received Leviathan Wakes. This is old-school space opera, featuring the crew of a spacecraft as they attempt to save the Solar system from an alien menace. The series features some nods towards serious science - the ships work strictly by Newtonian physics and there is no FTL travel, with the scope of events being limited (so far) to the Solar system alone - but it's certainly not hard SF. The emphasis is being on an entertaining, fast-paced read, and the book pulls this off with aplomb.
The cast of characters has been expanded in this volume, with only Holden returning as a POV character from the first volume. Unlike the first novel, which had a grand total of two POVs, this second volume features four: Holden, UN politician Avasarala, botanist Prax and marine Bonnie. This means that the authors have three major new characters to introduce us to, as well as continuing the storyline from the first novel and evolving the returning cast of characters (Holden and his crew). This results in the pace being marginally slower than in Leviathan Wakes, although certainly not fatally so. Indeed, Abraham and Franck imbue the new characters with interesting backstories, motivations and quirks. It's also quite amusing that the most enjoyable character in an action-packed space opera is a 70-year-old politician with a potty mouth.
There's some major shoot-outs, a few big space battles, a close encounter with a rampaging monster in a zero-gravity cargo hold and other action set pieces that are handled well, but the book falters a little in its handling of politics (which are fairly lightweight) and the characterisation of the bad guys, who never rise above the obvious.
Caliban's War (***½) is not as accomplished as its forebear but is still a page-turning, solidly enjoyable read. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
Not quite as good as the first book, I felt. If you intend to read through the series, then yes, important, necessary stuff does happen in this book - but I couldn't really shake the feeling that it could've very easily been condensed into about 30 pages in the next book instead - which also suffers from this same phenomenon. The writing is generally as good as the first, but the story, I felt, was lacking and the whole book felt more like a stepping stone than a story in its own right.
Caliban's War is the second of composite author James Corey's military space opera Expanse series. It is set in a Napoleonic/US war of independence solar system with humanity divided between the established powers of Earth and Mars, with the "Outer Planets Alliance" seeking to break free. In the first book a mysterious alien plague has killed scores of people, prompted a war, resulted in the destruction of an asteroid and is making planet wide changes to Venus.
As the second book opens, the forces of Earth and Mars are in an uneasy truce which is broken when a seemingly alien super warrior attacks on Ganymede.
The central characters of this instalment are once again Jim Holden and his Firefly-derived crew on the Rocinante.
Having now read all three of the currently published books in this sequence, this is, for me, the best. It is a no holds barred action thriller which keeps up a relentless pace. The new characters while as derivative as ever, are entertaining. A father in search of his lost daughter, a martian marine who could be playing rugby for Samoa, and most entertainingly a UN diplomat. She may be a woman, she may me Asian, she may be a grandmother, but in her manipulative modus operandii and her spectacularly colourful swearing, she is Malcolm Tucker.
So, if you like high octane military SF, if you want a piece of pure crash bang wallop entertainment, and if you don't want to have to engage brain too much, strap in and enjoy.
on 21 June 2012
I don't read a lot of scifi these days, although it was my drug of choice for a decade or more, but I love Daniel Abraham's fantasy works so this is a must-read for me. Written under a pseudonym with co-author Ty Franck, this is the second in the Expanse series. If the first had a sort of detective-noir feel to it, this one is much more classic space-opera, with space ships, inter-planetary alliances, zero-gravity battles, hi-tech weaponry and all the usual shenanigans, and although there is a bit of a mystery to solve, it's no more than backdrop for the action. I suppose a lot of scifi falls into the traditional grooves, and this one feels like it's made from the Firefly cookie cutter. Holden is the renegade captain (Mal), Alex the ace pilot (Wash without the dinosaurs), Naomi is Zoe and Amos is Jayne. There's even a Kaylee, Sam the red-headed pixie on Tycho, but thank all the gods, there's no lipsticky Inara.
Holden is the sole point of view character retained for this outing; Miller, the shoot first forget the questions cop, was.... hmm, eaten by? killed by? absorbed by? the alien monster thingy in part one. We have three new main characters; Avasarala is an elderly diplomat from Earth, Prax is the botanist from the moon Ganymede, and Bobbie is the marine from Mars (sorry, just can't say Martian marine, sounds too weird). These soon coalesce into two pairs and eventually overlap, and the authors manage to sweep the plot forward by deftly swapping from one to another. All four are interesting, well-drawn characters, and the minor characters are likeable too, especially Holden's crew. Prax comes in handy for the sciencey bits, while Avasarala is pulling the political strings of the complex tensions between Earth, Mars, big business and the outer planets. And Bobbie? She makes one hell of a warrior babe, that's all I can say.
The book seemed slow to get going, I thought. There was a lot of scene-setting and general background that wasn't exactly filler, but didn't seem to get very far, but to be fair, there are several new characters and a heap of backstory to get across. But almost imperceptibly the pace picks up and then we're off into the usual action-packed whirlwind. There were a few creaky moments, when the rationale for a character to do something obviously essential for the plot seemed a bit dubious, but really, it doesn't matter much. And just occasionally, when they do something completely and utterly in character, it feels absolutely punch-the-air glorious.
Although this is sci-fi, the technology is really not the point. It's obvious that a great deal of research has been done behind the scenes, but it very rarely breaks out into impenetrable jargon, and even when it does, there is usually another character there to say, on the reader's behalf, what does that mean, exactly? But none of it stretches credulity overmuch, and for me, as a fantasy fan, it's no problem to accept the high-tech 'magic' of instant wound-repairing medical equipment or fancy weaponry, in the same way I accept wizards with healing spells, or a magic sword. The nature of the setting also lends itself to some very atmospheric moments peculiar to space opera - the zero-gravity bounces, the weird moons, the outside-the-ship moments, the sheer scale of the universe - which the authors convey very well.
My biggest complaint would be that too much of the plot hinges on finding and recovering unharmed Prax's small daughter, Mei. Given the interstellar nature of the conflict and the countless unnamed minions who died along the way, it seems unrealistic to devote so much effort to one child. I appreciate the need to humanise the conflict, but it still seems excessive. There also seemed to be a lot of emphasis on individuals who got close to mental breakdown, either by highly stressed circumstances, or lack of sleep, or just personality. I'm not quite sure what purpose this served, except to ramp up the tension a bit. But these are small points.
The ending fell a little flat for me, seeming to be no more than a sequence of high tension encounters which were actually resolved very quickly, without any unexpected twists or great drama. The authors are very good at not spinning the action sequences out too far, but these felt almost abrupt. There were a few moments of near Galaxy-Quest-ness, but it's hard to write this kind of stuff without evoking parody, and the authors deftly sidestepped the worst of it. And the dramatic reveal in the final paragraphs was hardly unpredictable - well, if I could see it coming, anyone could.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed most of the book, up until the last few chapters, even more than the previous one in the series. I liked Bobbie the marine, I liked the little romance Holden had going, I liked seeing more of Amos, Alex and Naomi (who make a great team), and Avasarala had all the best lines. The writing is taut, the pacing is perfect, and the authors ping-pong the plot between points of view effortlessly. And no, I have no idea who wrote which characters. A good entertaining read with plenty of action and a few moments of real depth lurking beneath all the drama. Four stars.
on 24 May 2013
Written by the writing "team" under the nom-de-plume of James S. A. Corey the book takes us further into the "Expanse" universe of ancient alien bio-weapons mis-used by humanity for political gain and potentially destroying us all (sociopaths eh!).
This volume introduces the United Nations of Earth and to a lesser extent the Martian Colonies in greater detail (the first book concentrated on the Belt and outer planets polities) and develops the "first contact" and threat of alien tech further - the ending is aweing and sets the scene perfectly for the third book "Abbadon Gates" (June 2013).
The books use a "by character" per chapter viewpoint, not unlike Robert Jordan's Wheel of time - EXCEPT that it is (very) good, with tight storytelling, believable behaviour, every chapter actually having some reason for being there. Difficult book to put down and leaves you wanting more as the first novel did. Keep it up gentlemen.
To everyone else - READ IT! And enjoy,
on 12 March 2014
After a slower start it takes of half way through and never lets up. I am actually now on the third book Abaddon's Gate. I can't tell you how impressed I am with this series. Well I will try, the characters are so natural, you know in most books the Author is obviously biased to one or another viewpoint or leading the reader. Here in this series they are as real as anyone I know. From their individual perspectives the characters are doing or saying what they believe is right, the Author just lets them be what they are, he does not judge. How can he become so many wildly different people, it's amazing. But then there's the most refreshing and realistic sci fi world, bound by proper physics that we can understand and relate to. But then of course it's the plot that pins you to a chair and grips you like a magnet. Brilliant stuff.
on 11 June 2013
More thrill a minute space opera with enough intellegent writing to keep more discerning readers interested. This is the way I love my sci-fi; guns, politics, space ships and a deep dark brooding threat. But why the cost, Amazon? I can go down to Waterstones and by cheaper than this. If it wasn't for a brief price drop I wouldn't have bought, which doesn't seem fair, on the Author does it?