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Minireview: Cibola Burn, by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn is the fourth book in the “Expanse” series, and the first one to take place mainly on a planet outside our solar system. The gate system opened up by the alien “protovirus” has opened up a Pandora’s Box for humanity, and a mass exodus to the stars has begun – some with “official” blessing, most not so much. A large part of that has to do with the highly unstable political situation, where multiple parties claim to be the ones “in charge”. No single party actually is.

Some explorers and settlers had managed to use the gate system before the temporary military shutdown, and now some “official” expeditions are coming into conflict with pre-existing colonies on new, habitable planets. Foremost here is the planet Ilus, where a squatter colony’s claims is contested by a large, corporate expedition, and tensions are running high. Enter Holden and crew, and diplomats and negotiators. Yeah, right. Fat chance of that working out.

In a way it’s a bit of a Western, in its setup. Small, plucky settlers are being menaced by corporate power, threatening to steal their claim. Into this setup, a “neutral lawman” rides in. But of course, it’s not quite that simple; the colonists are no angels, and while the corporate head is a stereotypical Bad Guy, most of the people on that side are normal, decent folk. In any case, the “Western” bit morphs into something else, when it becomes clear the planet may be holding some ancient secrets of its own, and some of them may be waking up.

Like the previous books, it’s a fun ride and a great read. As typical here, the end portion is one long rollercoaster ride which wraps up nicely but leaves the big picture open for sequels. It answers some questions regarding the Miller/protomolecule storyline, but also opens up a few new ones. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and maybe not quite as coherent as a story as the previous ones, but still very much worth the read for people who have liked the series so far.

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Minireview: Abaddon's Gate, by James S.A. Corey

Abaddon’s Gate is the third book in the “Expanse” series, and while it’s not quite as good as the previous two books, it’s still quite a ride. At the core, it consists of two parallel storylines, continuing from where the last book left off. In one, someone with a serious grudge against Holden starts a chain of events intended to smear his reputation and kill him (perhaps in that order). In the other, the “protomolecule” has now built a vast structure a few AU outside the orbit of Uranus, and it seems to be some kind of “gate” – though one operating on technology levels far outside humanity’s capabilities. So a large fleet consisting of various interested parties heads out to investigate, and along for the ride is the Rocinante and her crew as representatives of the OPA. It should not come as a huge surprise to the reader that things escalate in a serious fashion, and the stakes get raised yet again.

It’s good, very good. While it’s perhaps not quite as focused as the first two books, the difference is miniscule and the new characters are interesting. As before, the book wraps up nicely enough but leaves the story open for the next book.

If you’ve read the first two books you’ll want to read this. If not, go read Leviathan Wakes. Shoo.

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Minireview: Caliban's War, by James S.A. Corey

Caliban’s War is the second book in James Corey’s (pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) “The Expanse” series, and it doesn’t slow down a bit from the pace of the first book – and is just as dangerous for causing sleep deprivation. The plot continues from where the first book ended, with some new people getting introduced. On Ganymede, Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper is witness to her whole squad getting wiped out by some sort of “supersoldier”, while in the halls of power (U.N.) Chrisjen Avasarala, and elderly politician with a foul mouth and quick temper, tries to figure out what the hell is going on. There’s also Prax Meng, a scientist on Ganymede, whose daughter has been abducted by parties unknown, perhaps involved in the recent violence.

…and then of course there’s James Holden and the merry crew of the Rocinante, now loosely allied with the Outer Planets Alliance. They get swept into the events, and (predictably) all hell breaks loose. Oh, and there’s also the alien “protomolecule” building who-knows-what on Venus, which makes pretty much everyone very nervous. Not that they weren’t already.

Like the first book, it’s tightly plotted and written in page-turner fashion. It’s almost an exhausting read, but in a good way. The plot twists keep on coming, and things escalate in a logical but still surprising fashion. Avasarala is a fun character, and provides a new viewpoint character for the series. Bobbie, the U.N. marine, is also a nicely nuanced character. Sure, some of the bad guys are almost cartoonishly evil, but it works here – their motivations (power, money) are classic but mostly believable.

A great read. While it is largely a self-contained tale which does (mostly) wrap up within this book, this book should be read as part of a series and after reading Leviathan Wakes, otherwise you’ll miss out on lots of details and character development.

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