Finally, words about The Expanse books by James S. A. Corey
The human race expands out into the stars and splits into three major factions: Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets. With different politics, societies and worldviews, the various factions donít always get along. When the freighter The Canterbury is shot by a stealth ship of mysterious origins, the Outer Planets see it as an attack by Earth/Mars, and the beginnings of war commence.
The four survivors of The Canterbury are lead by Jim Holden on a fact-finding mission about the nature of the mysterious ship. Meanwhile, Detective Miller on the asteroid base Ceres Station begins investigating the disappearance of rich socialite turned freedom fighter Julie Mao whose father is one of the most powerful men in the galaxy.
Structured as a detective story, Leviathan Wakes keeps the intrigue and clues popping along at a steady pace. Following the perspective of two vastly different characters who essentially want the same thing is the strength of this book. Holden is an idealist who believes that full disclosure is always the best policy while Miller believes in a far more cruel and cynical world. The book stands strongly on the foundation of their point of views and the well-established world that feels fully-realized at every level even down to random scientific minutia. Itís a promising start to the series.
One of the great strengths of the first book is how the scope of the story evolved over time. This book takes that scale and runs with it, doubling the point of views with four perspectives. Youíve got James Holden returning as the captain of the freelance ship Rocinante, plant biologist Prax who works on Ganymede station, Bobbie Draper, a Martian marine stationed on Ganymede and Chrisjen Avasarala, one of the most powerful UN officials living on Earth all playing a part in the events of the story.
The Expanse continues to impress with the distinctive sound of each voice. Inhabiting the lives and minds of each character across lines and allegiances give this holistic perspective on events where itís hard to pick sides and allegiances. Each character is flawed and weak in their own way and yet somehow compliments others in other ways. Bobbie and Chrisjen and probably the best contrast as Bobbie is used to solving things through military power while Chrisjen is the master of political games. Both want the same thing, but use much different methods to get to it.
While it might not be fair to declare this two books in, this feels like the high mark for the series that the rest of the books will try to live up to. The balance of the character perspectives, the growing political intrigue and that commitment to world-building makes for a fantastic followup to the original book and a fine work of science fiction.
After the sprawling adventure of the last book, it would probably be tempting to try to go even bigger and broader. Instead, the story is scaled back and slowed down...literally. An alien gateway (yea, thereís ancient technology left over from aliens in this series) to an odd pocket realm opens and Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets scramble to control it. Of course, itís Holden and the crew of the Rocinante who are the first to broadcast images from inside the weird pocket dimension. But when violence begins inside this weird bit of space, the rules of physics seem to be taken over by some alien technology that slows down the speed limit of everything inside to a crawl.
Part of what makes this books work so well is it takes all the political intrigue of the series and then places it under the stress of having all the factions stuck in a situation where simply surviving becomes top priority. Will people be able to put aside differences and get along or will humanity continue to hold knives at each otherís throats? Itís two of the characters, Bull and Anna, who help explore this idea.
Anna is compelling as a Methodist pastor who is sent on the mission as a civilian observer in order to examine the spiritual implications of signs of alien life in the universe. She tries to minister to people in crisis in the face of slow death in space. Meanwhile, Bull tries to keep order on the Outer Planet ship Behemoth as security officer, but quickly has his job undermined for being from Earth.
Rounding out the four perspectives are Holden once again and Clarissa, who I wonít say much about as who she is and why sheís in the series will spoil the first two books. She has her moments as a character, but in the grand scope of things feels like one of the weaker characters in the series. Her stakes in the world are much more personal and petty and donít fall in line with the broader contexts of the world that make each character feel like a compelling outlook on the universe. She does come across as more interesting than Bull who lacks any impact as a character with personality.
The book does end by pulling out the rug from the reader with an ending that honestly could have capped off these three books as a trilogy, but, like the name of the series suggests, The Expanse is always interested in expanding.
Itís going to get hard from here on out to write about these books without flat out spoiling the previous titles, so Iím probably going to have much shorter thoughts going forward. This title once again plays out in rather small scale compared to the first two books, the entire events taking place on one planet. Itís essentially a space Western that looks at what happens when humanity tries to expand.
There are lots of direct references to the American West, which makes sense with Holden being born in Montana. The book tackles issues of governance, colonialism, scientific integrity, and more as it looks at what it means for humans to explore the final frontier. But where the ideas shine here, it feels like the character take a step back. Holden is interesting enough as a lead for the series, but the rest of the characters here just arenít as memorable or distinct as in previous books. Theyíre not bad, but it feels like a volume where we follow what would be the supporting characters in another book only to realize why such characters are generally kept as supporting characters.
And that's all for now. I started the fifth book yesterday. And for those keeping track at home, I started the first book on April 4th and finished the fourth book on May 13th, averaging a book every 10 days. Not bad given they average about 570 pages each.