Friday, June 14, 2013

#FridayReview #12 "Abbadon's Gate"

I love science fiction, and space operas are generally my favourite kind. I'm not entirely sure how operatic the so-called James S. A. Corey Expanse novels are, but they certainly are space. I enjoyed the first book in the series, and the second, and so I was really excited to read the third. So without further ado, I present the review for:


This is the third book in the series, starting with Leviathan Wakes and continuing with Caliban's War. The first one was an action packed/mystery filled broventure through space that I thouroughly enjoyed, but found almost completely lacking of female points of view. Somewhere between Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War, someone talked to the two guys that make up Corey and they apparently learned what women are and how they exist. The results are impressive, though if you were looking for the fixes, they're really noticeable. I don't know if they planned the novels to become progressively more "feminist" (read: egalitarian) and sort of flip flop some tried-and-true patriarchal sci-fi tropes, but they end up doing that, and it works pretty well in Caliban's War.

Let's drop some background: In The Expanse series, the solar system is pretty well populated, almost like the setting of the dreadful 2312, but a little grittier and significantly more real. There are three major factions: The UN, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance. You can guess who they represent. There is one main character who the story ostensibly rotates around, the man James Holden who has been the centre of a lot of political turmoil all because of the crazy billions-year old alien protomolecule superdevice discovered living inside of Phoebe. I don't want to reveal too much, but the results of the other two book are that Earth and Mars are no longer allied, the OPA is independent, and there is a giant Ring floating just outside Neptune's orbit. This book is about the Ring.

I'll be frank. Corey knows that it's obvious that the Ring is a hyperspace gate or whatever, and doesn't play with us at all: the prologue tells you that's whats up. These guys do great prologues. Leviathan Wakes was a good book, and the best part of it was the prologue. The characters are brought together quickly -- the new are introduced, and Holden is honestly the least interesting, which is a good and a bad thing. There's Bull, the grizzled Earther vet who's joined up with the OPA, Anna, a priest originally from Russia, then Europa, who just happens to be gay. (which is pretty normal by the Earth family standards of the Expanse. They tackle the overpopulation issue in an interesting way that I like!) Last, there's Clarissa, who wants to destroy everything that Holden is, for what happened in Caliban's War.

Mixing all these guys up is real fun. It doesn't take long for everyone to get through the Ring, in very dramatic fashion, and then things


the fuck


If you've ever read Rama II or Rama III. You'll know there's something as too slow. The action in the book literally slows down -- you'll know what I'm talking about when you read it. The humans discover there's an alien superstructure, but most of them can't get to it. Mostly because most of them are killed pretty quickly after arriving. Shit hits the fan really hard, really fast, and the pace somehow stays alive, but at the same time, I felt like nothing was being accomplished. Characters died, action happened, but once again the aliens are kept on the outer edge, a whisper or a vision, a brief interaction. Technically, the alien structure is attacking them the whole time, I guess, but it definitely doesn't feel that way.

The whole battle against the aliens is actually a battle between humanity, to try to get everyone to agree. Much like Crossroads of Eternity was about the characters choosing where to go, Abbadon's Gate is about deciding what to do once you get there, and find out it's crazy and friggen weird.

If you've ever read Mistborn, and gotten past the first book, you'll know what I'm about to talk about. Transitioning an action-based, adventure style mystery solving whip of a book into a introspective political drama is difficult. Rewarding if done well, but difficult. This book is an introspective political drama in space, with gunfights. There is plenty of action, and the writing is as always, great, but I felt like Cory had written himself(ves?) into a corner with this book, because while I get that the whole point is that its humanity that's the real enemy, the world they've put their characters in is one where they have no option but to turn on themselves, because the alien artifact is essentially unnaproachable, unreachable, and completely unresponsive except through some little side-interaction through Holden, who doesn't really do much of anything with the alien structure, except learn what he needs to do to turn it off, which is to make everyone agree. The actual puzzle-solving is done by the alien-ressurrected ghost of the second POV character from Leviathan Wakes, one sad, lonely, drunkenly stereotypical hard-but-tired Detective Miller.

I don't know why they chose to keep the interaction with the aliens to the minimum that they did -- the story is good, and I enjoyed the book, but the ending felt weak without some real climax with the alien power. Maybe that's waiting for another book, but this book needed one.

The book leaves off promising that there will be more of Holden&friends to come. Honestly, they've got quite the setting for an expanded universe -- I can't deny that I've thought of writing my own little fictions in their world -- it's a good one! While this book has its flaws, it also has incredible strength in the power of its character's messages. There's a real philosophical heart to this book, and it's one we should all get along with. If you're looking for a solid sci-fi book that respects women, this is your ticket. Though I suggest reading all the other ones first :D

ONE WORD REVIEW: ENGAGING                                                   B/W/D: BUY