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 12 August 2013
When I picked up Leviathan Wakes late in the game I knew that the general consensus of the novel was pretty good, that it was a well portrayed near-future science fiction, and that it lived up to the initial hype surrounding it. My opinion was pretty much along those lines too, and I ranked it right up there with the best novels I'd read that year. To say I was eager to read Caliban's War is somewhat of an understatement, but history does have a habit of repeating itself and here I am over a year after its release finally getting around to it. What I found within the pages of Caliban's War is both the story I wanted, and the story I didn't...
Caliban's War is set against the backdrop of the aftermath of events from Leviathan Wakes, and picks up the story a few short months later. With the protomolecule doing all sorts of strange things on Venus, tensions are high between Earth and the outer planets, with fighting breaking out on Ganymede after a horrifyingly familiar creature attacks both sides. As events continue to unfold, the bigger picture of the solar system becomes clearer, though it is far from straight forward.
While Leviathan Wakes focused on two points of view - starship pilot Holden, and detective Miller - this time it's expanded to that of four: Holden; Earth UN politician Avasarala; Ganymede botanist Prax; and Martian marine Bobbie. Holden is the only returning point of view, and his ship and crew are still very much a part of the picture. Of the new viewpoints, Avasarala is my favourite. She's a straight-talking, no-nonsense politician that, perhaps unintentionally, brings a smile to my face when she's on the page, despite the seriousness of the situation. Bobbie is interesting being the sole survivor of the opening attack. She doesn't play the political game, instead being completely frustrated at those that dance around issues rather than discussing them outright. Prax is the odd one out, if you could call him that. His daughter went missing during the events of the opening chapter, and he's desperate to find her. He hasn't got many resources at his disposal, and it's not until later on that his story starts to really build up speed as he becomes further integrated into the wider plot.
The plot to Caliban's War is good, but it doesn't have the focus I thought it would have on Venus and the protomolecule. There is plenty of action, intrigue, and entertainment to be had in Caliban's War, so it's unfair to say it's not enjoyable, but I was a little disappointed. There is no doubt that Corey is delivering some very good science fiction here, and the promise that the series holds is huge. Suffice to say, if you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes you'll find plenty here to keep you entertained. However, I'll be stepping into the third book, Abaddon's Gate, with a little more caution.
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!
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 14 June 2012
The first volume of series was one of the best sci fi reads I had in a while (literally couldnt put the book down) and the second part promises more of the same. It doesn't quite reach the standard of leviathan wakes (It might just be my personal preference) but i would recommend it to anyone, writing and characters are great and i can't wait for the next part already.
This is the second volume in the "Expanse" trilogy and it follows more or less where "Leviathan Wakes" finished. The main theme here is corporate greed and rivalry between the two major powers (Terra and Mars) as a large corporation plays them one against another and comes up with a lethal and devastating weapon. While not bad, the plot does have a little air of "déjà vu" and may remind some of Hamilton and his (mostly) "evil" corporations, although, to be fair, there is a sufficient number of twists and differences to make it somewhat original.
Some of the same characters are back, in particular James Holden, the ex-Navy officer who was the hero of the first volume, and the crew of the Rocinante. These, however, were not the ones I found the most interesting. In fact I got a bit tired of James Holden personal relationship, and of the character himself. I was much more interested in two of the new characters - the Martian marine sergeant who sees her platoon slaughtered and seeks to understand what happened and avenge them and the high flying politician from Terra. Both characters I found to be well drawn and convincing, partly because both are both strong in their rather different ways but also vulnerable.
As alluded to before, a number of features are used rather successfully in this book to grip the reader and drag her/him into the history. One of these is the previously mentioned slaughter of the Martian marine platoon. One this is achieved, it is rather difficult to put this one down. Even if slightly less good than the previous one, perhaps in part because it is volume two, this one is still just about worth four stars for me. Definitely recommended, but you probably need to read volume one first.
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.
One of the reasons for the appeal of the Expanse novels is that as they begin they're confined to our solar system. There is no warp drive. The mineral-rich asteroid belt represents the limit of human exploitation, populated by the belters - elongated men and women who could no more live on Earth than you or I could live underwater. This is a volatile solar system, divided uneasily between Belters, Earthers and Martians. All are militaristic to varying degrees, all are suspicious, xenophobic even, and all want what the others have. When the protomolecule turns up - or, more to the point, wakes up - it's no surprise that the situation explodes, quite literally.
Our focus in Leviathan Wakes were Holden, a renegade Earther captain who lights the spark and as a result has the entire solar system after him, and Miller, a Belter detective obsessed with discovering the fate of Julie Mao, a rich girl and adventurer from Earth who is one of the first to fall victim to the protomolecule. You really need to have read Leviathan Wakes to appreciate just how this turns out. But as Caliban's War begins, the uneasy status quo that followed the settlement of the protomolecule onto Venus is abruptly shattered by an attack on Ganymede. Jupiter's moon is the larder of the solar system, not only producing vast quantities of food but also providing the birthplace of choice for many expectant mothers. An attack on Martian supermarines coincides with the abduction of a number of children. Suspicion and fear result and Earthers and Martians open fire on each other. It's soon clear that the protomolecule may have made another move. Where it is heading and how many other humans it will transform into organic juice and dismembered zombies in its unknowable mission is a mystery. Holden, possibly the only person with the slightest chance of communing with this monstrous entity, sets off to find out.
Holden and his small crew is again the main focus of Caliban's War but his story is interspersed with chapters which follow a host of other personalities. And they're goodies. Martian marine Bobbie (a giant of a woman), foul-mouthed UN Earther politician (and gentle grandmother) Avasarala and Ganymede scientist Prax, whose daughter is among the abducted, are the principal new characters. Each has a distinctive voice and each has their own path that leads them to Holden and the pursuit of the protomolecule. Arguably, Bobbie and Avasarala steal the show here. They are huge personalities and also extremely likeable.
Caliban's War, just like Leviathan Wakes, raises the pulse from start to finish. It is stuffed full of action and the most dramatic set scenes, which is hardly surprising considering the hostility between Earthers and Martians. The tension between planets is matched by the unease between individuals, plus the quieter drive of these people to find peace in their private lives, all threatened as they are by this fearsome alien protomolecule.
As before, the narrative switches between the main protagonists, all the time bringing their stories closer to one another, until the most thrilling climax. Caliban's War is as good as Leviathan Wakes, which is no mean feat, and its edge of the seat finale leads perfectly to Abaddon's Gate during which one hopes more will be revealed about this ancient, terrifying and anonymous threat to human life. This is a great series - big, fast, ambitious, hugely fun and thrilling, and totally addictive.
on 16 January 2014
When it comes to SF I typically get on better with the classics - Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick's short fiction, Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss, Alfred Bester - than with anything more recent - try as I might, I just can't warm to Alistair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Dan Simmons, Hannu Rajaniemi, Richard Morgan, etc. So quite why I bought James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes I can't honestly tell you; and while I can't shake the feeling that it didn't make a jot of sense, it was probably one of my favourite five books of last year.
This sequel improves upon much of what is good about Corey's writing (it's never been a secret that he's actually two guys, right?): there's something delightfully old-fashioned about this universe in the sense that nothing technological or sociological herein is likely to surprise even the most casual SF reader, and the feel of an alternative-universe Firefly (albeit one stripped of its chinoiserie) is both welcoming and not as intrusive as you may fear. They also get the basics right: characters who capture your attention without gimmickry (I might actually be in love with Bobbie Draper) and a regularly-cycling viewpoint through a cast large enough to widen the universe believably but not so vast that you lose track of quite who anyone is.
A few seams in the partnership remain - a glut of technical specification really gums up the works on a few intended Big Set-Pieces, and a few excisions that would hardly dent these 600 pages could even-up the pace a little - but the facts remain that This Isn't Really My Kind Of Thing and yet I Absolutely Loved It. The sense of wonder they generate at times ('he was a speck of dust on a speck of dust, clipped by his mag boots to the body of a ship unthinkably more powerful than himself, and unimportant before the face of the abyss') is what drew me to SF in the first place, and I'll absolutely be back to see where they take things next.