Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey (Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham)
Published : Orbit, 2012
Series : Book 2 of the Expanse
Awards Nominated : Locus SF

The Book :

“On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.

In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun…” ~The Expanse Wiki 

I loved the first novel of this series, and it has taken me entirely too long to get around to book 2!  I was hoping that I’d be able to read Abaddon’s Gate before the next one comes out (this June), but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Also, it looks like Syfy is picking up this series as a television show, so here’s hoping they do it justice!

My Thoughts:

Caliban’s War occurs in the aftermath of the events of Leviathan Wakes, and it features a number of the same characters. It also seems to repeat many of the same beats as the first novel in the series—missing daughter, alien protomolecule, vomit zombies, etc.—but, given how much I enjoyed the first novel, a little repetition did not deter my enjoyment of the continuing story. I still find it impressive that this novel was written by two authors, since their writing seems to merge seamlessly at this point.  I could pick out Abraham’s point-of-view character in Leviathan Wakes, but I honestly couldn’t tell who wrote which character this time around.       

Speaking of the viewpoint characters, Caliban's War features four.  Jim Holden remains from the first novel, though he’s been going through a rough patch after his traumatic experiences in the previous novel.  Holden has lost his idealistic certainty, and I was much more engaged with his search for how to live as a good person.  I also still love the rest of the Rocinante crew, and I really enjoyed the direction the novel took Holden and Naomi’s relationship.  The viewpoint character Prax Meng, a scientist desperately searching for his missing daughter, was an interesting counterpoint to Holden and his crew.  After the callousness of Julie Mao’s parents, it was refreshing to see Prax’s devotion to his daughter.

The other two additions are Bobbie, the Martian marine, and Avasarala, the foul-mouthed, elderly politician. Bobbie was a pretty simple, straightforward character, but it was refreshing to see a macho fighter character portrayed as a woman.  As for Avasarala, I found her political skill a little unconvincing, but I assumed she must have been more charismatic on her climb up the ladder of power. I thought the simplistic Earth-Mars politics angle of the story was one of its weaker points, but watching Bobbie and Avasarala interact livened up the plotline considerably.  In fact, altogether, I really enjoyed the interactions of the characters, and the complementarity of their various perspectives.

While the plot does bear some similarities to Leviathan Wakes, it's still entertaining in its own right.   The story has a good balance of humor, horror, action and adventure, and the heroes are faced again with a potential disaster for the human race.  Also, the search for Meng’s daughter gave the story a more personal, emotional push than Miller’s obsession with finding Julie.  However, There were a few areas that seemed a little weaker.  The main plot was more political, and the machinations were a too blatant for my tastes.  Following from this, I thought that the villains were a little too mustache-twirling, shortsighted, and unintelligent.  All the same, the novel was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s up with the protomolecule in Abaddon’s Gate.

My Rating: 4/5

Caliban’s War is a thoroughly entertaining addition to The Expanse saga. Holden and his crew return as major characters, and I enjoyed them just as much this time around.  There are also a number of interesting new viewpoint characters, which provide perspectives from a scientific community, the military, and the political sphere.  However, the novel repeats a lot of the successful notes of the first novel of the series, the politics are a little obvious, and the villains are pretty one-dimensional.  Despite that, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement, horror, action and humor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for the crew of the Rocinante!

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