Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Gollancz/Grand Central Publishing (2010)
Series: Book 8 of Kushiel’s Legacy

The Book:

“Moirin has finished her task in Ch’in, far from her European home.  In the process, she has split her diadh-anam, the soul-spark of her people, to guard her love Bao from death.  However, this has made him her literal soulmate--a role he never agreed to fill. Bao flees to seek out his own origins, and to come to terms with his renewed life and unasked-for purpose.

Moirin, frustrated by his desertion, follows after him. However, the lands are treacherous for a lone woman far from home. She will find many friends and some enemies as she struggles across countries to reunite with her soulmate.” ~Allie

This long-delayed review is for a novel read during a community read-along, and you can see our spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.  This is the second book of the third trilogy of Kushiel’s Legacy, and I will be finishing up with a review of the final book soon.

My Thoughts:

Naamah’s Curse provides some things I always expect and enjoy from the Kushiel’s Legacy series; a focus on exploring fantasy versions of a variety of cultures over the course of many adventures.  Up until Moirin’s departure to Ch’in (fantasy China) in the previous novel, the series had primarily focused on Europe. In Naamah’s Curse, Moirin departs from Ch’in to travel through fantasy versions of several Asian cultures in her quest to reunite with Bao.  It’s always a lot of fun to see the outsider protagonist encounter new cultures and come to appreciate new ways of life.  However, I felt that Moirin sometimes tended to bring more judgment to the cultures she encountered than other protagonists have in the past, and she also seems to have more of a drive to change them to fit her own ideals.

Though she has many adventures, Moirin’s lack of agency continues to be a problem in this series.  All of her major (and some minor) decisions continue to be directed by her diadh-anam, which gives the sense that she is simply serving as a very obedient puppet.  In this book, her diadh-anam has even taken over her love life and emotions.  It has determined that Bao is her soulmate, and neither of them have any more say in the matter.  Given the series’s usual theme of “Love as thou wilt”, I was disappointed to see this trilogy’s romance end up as “love as you’re told”.  I was not even particularly sympathetic to their romance, given that they are sometimes shockingly callous about how their great love affects other people’s lives.  Bao, in particular, makes some very serious and destructive decisions, and they seem to be more glossed over than realistically resolved.  

While Moirin doesn’t seem to have very much free will, she’s also pretty heavily overpowered. Multiple deities speak with her regularly, and imbue her with a wide variety of magical powers. Her bear-witch gives her stealth powers and the ability to remove memories.  Various d’Angeline angels give her powers related to sex, communing with plants and animals, and magically making plants bloom. Her divine powers enable her to heal those beyond the aid of medicine and to open doors to the spirit realm.  She has picked up a charm for finding lost things, and seems to have developed a natural genius for language.  She’s also absolutely gorgeous, a master archer, a survivalist, and able to inspire protective love in nearly anyone who isn’t evil.  Given all these advantages, it seems nearly impossible for her to fail--except in situations where people interfere with her superpowers (like Superman and Kryptonite). Despite my complaints, I did continue reading the series to see the end of Moirin’s journey.

My Rating: 2.5/5

In the second book of Moirin’s trilogy, she explores many cultures in a fantasy version of Asia.  As usual, I enjoyed seeing her encounter different ways of life, and enjoyed seeing the adventures she encounters in her life.  At the same time, I still feel like her diadh-anam is leading her by the nose on a path she likely would not otherwise have taken.  Now, her diadh-anam also controls her romantic feelings and relationships, so her and Bao’s bond is no longer of their own free will. She is also getting pretty overfull of natural advantages and mystical powers, so that her successes often feel too easy and assured.  I continued on to finish Moirin’s trilogy, but I think Phedre’s trilogy is going to continue to be my favorite section of the overall series.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

TV Musings: Fall 2017

Today, I want to talk again about some of the science fiction and fantasy television shows I’ve been watching lately.  There are so many fun ones out these days that I’m still pretty far behind. This season’s batch is very heavily science-fiction, and covers the end of one show and the beginning of three others!

Orphan Black (BBC America, Season 5): This season was planned as the conclusion of the show, and it successfully wraps up the many mysteries and character arcs that have been introduced over the previous four seasons.  In other words, this show does have a complete story, and it was not canceled before its time. In broad strokes, the show features a group of young women who discover that they are experimental clones created and monitored by a mysterious organization focused on the artificial evolution of humanity. I appreciated the emphasis on the importance of both nature and nurture in human development, showing how each of these women lead very different lives while sharing similar traits.  In this season, it was also nice to see Sarah (one of the clones) begin to acknowledge her daughter as a person with her own hopes and desires, not as a Macguffin to be protected. Not all of the many memorable supporting characters made it to the end, so it was bittersweet seeing the survivors move forward into their future. Farewell to a show that was suspenseful, clever and often darkly humorous, and which featured a vibrant cast of complicated people.

Salvation (CBS, Season 1): I was not really expecting a science fiction show from CBS, but it looks like they’re starting to be interested in embracing the genre (they also have Star Trek: Discovery and an upcoming Twilight Zone reboot). In Salvation, a bright grad student one day discovers that a massive asteroid will strike the Earth in six month.  He soons becomes involved with the US government and Darius Tanz (an Elon-Musk-like scientist), as they plan to divert the asteroid and save humanity. That seems like a sensible plot that would wrap up fairly quickly, but this assessment ignores that humans are often horrible and self-destructive.  Luckily, the main characters are all sincere people with good intentions, so it’s easy to root for them in their struggle against malice and corruption.  There’s a fair amount of artistic license with the science, but the story is a lot of fun.  I expect this one is likely to wrap up in its second season.  

Legion (FX, Season 1):  Legion is a show that has a very strong sense of style, and it presents a colorful, confusing explosion of a story. It revolves around a very powerful (and dangerous) mutant named David, who is living in a mental institution.  He ends up taken in by a mutant group that wants to help disentangle the effects of his powers from his mental issues, all while contending with threats from both inside his mind and out.  I thought the over-the-top style worked well to convey the blurring of reality and illusion, and it was sometimes pretty comical as well. On a side note, it must have been incredibly fun for the actress who played David’s friend Lenny (and she was amazing in the role). I also liked that the show surprised me; I couldn’t really see where it was going and I didn’t predict some of the twists. I’m excited to see where they’ll take things in the second season.      

The Orville (Fox, Season 1): This was not the strongest sci-fi entry of the fall, but it was light and entertaining enough that I watched the full season.  I really like the idea, showing an exploratory vessel in a Star-Trek-ish universe that is run by ordinary people.  There were some neat touches, which illustrated what it would be like if the crew members saw their work as just a job and not necessarily a calling (e.g. “Is is okay to have soda on the bridge?”).  Like Star Trek, it is episodic in structure, with each episode telling a short story focused on one of the people of the Orville. Some of these stories are really interesting and funny (“Into the Fold”--a supercilious robot and a family are crash-landed on a post-apocalyptic planet), and some are unintentionally horrifying (“Cupid’s Dagger”--basically an extended rape joke).  Some continuing weaknesses are a lack of creativity in alien species, glaring plot holes, and the focus on the captain and XO’s failed relationship as a source of humor.  Still, there were enough fun episodes that I am planning to try the second season next year!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
Published: Orbit (2015)
Series: Book 5 of The Expanse

The Book:

A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.

Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.

And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.”

I read this book as an audiobook for a community read-along, and you can see our spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  This is my favorite of the series so far. I’m planning to post my review of Babylon’s Ashes later in December, and I’ll be joining a read-along for Persepolis Rising in January!

My Thoughts:

Nemesis Games takes a different approach than previous novels in terms of the viewpoint characters. Instead of introducing new characters, it gives the reader the perspective of characters they already know and (at least in my case) like a great deal.  Holden remains our continuing hero through the series, but the other chapters are through the eyes of Alex, Naomi and Amos, the crew of the Rocinante.  I was so excited to see the universe through their eyes, and also to learn more about their pasts and how their experiences have shaped them. Each of them has a distinct personality and voice.  By the end, I felt like I understood each of them so much more than I had before. I was especially impressed with Naomi’s tenacity and intelligence, and she has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the series.

While I loved these characters in general, their differing backgrounds also made them ideal for this particular story.  The four of them scattered--to Mars, the Earth, and the Belt--to address their own personal matters. Meanwhile, solar-system-wide mysteries and civilization-changing events were afoot, and these large-scale events ran through and wove together the viewpoint characters’ individual stories. Unlike my complaints with Cibola Burn, this time every chapter felt necessary to the whole, and the characters always seemed integral to the events happening around them. There were some really spectacularly fun bits, too, like Amos’s blunt conversations with Chrisjen Avasarala and Alex’s collaboration with Bobbie.  I enjoyed how well the novel balanced funny or emotional character moments with the consequences of major system-wide events.

On the larger scale, this novel deals with the consequences of the opening of the gates on the existing status quo of the solar system.  While having loads of new planets may seem like a good thing, it does have negative effects.  The great project to terraform Mars is beginning to look a little pointless, and Belters worry that an increased focus on planetary living will push them out of existence.  These conflicting human motivations drive the story, and alien-related problems move to the back-burner.  When the crisis point comes, it is a game changer for humanity and for this series.  I’m still curious to learn more about the ancient alien civilization, but I have enjoyed the focus on human actions in this stage of the story.   I’m excited to see what will happen in the final four books of the series!

My Rating: 5/5

Nemesis Games, 5th book of The Expanse, is my favorite of the series to date.  Instead of introducing new major characters, the viewpoint characters were the members of the close-knit Rocinante crew. The story was full of suspense and action, and each character’s personal arc tied into the momentous events that affect humanity across the solar system.  There’s very little to do with aliens this time around, and instead the focus is on how the current events have affected the various slices of human civilization.  I think Nemesis Games will be hard to top, but I’ll be happy if the rest of the series proves me wrong!   

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Short Fiction: August 2017

It’s time to highlight another handful of my favorite short fiction stories, this time from those that were published in August 2017!  This time, I found all the stories very deeply emotionally affecting, and each also held a sense of hope and peace for the future.  This is the first time I’ve featured Elaine Cuyegkeng and Kate Marshall, but Linda Nagata has shown up on my blog before for both short fiction and long.  I’m still planning on continuing her military SF series at some point.  Anyway, on to the stories, and I have provided links to where they are available to read online!   

These Constellations will be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Short Story, Strange Horizons): In a space-faring empire, young precognitive girls from a particular culture are taken, indoctrinated, and physically patched into starships.  The main character has already been made into a starship, and she watches the possible futures of another girl who was ransomed from the same fate by familial wealth. This is a story of the suffering caused by colonialism, racism and the commodification of people.  At the same time, as we see the vision and revolutionary tendencies of the unmade girl, it carries a strong sense of hope that injustice will not always go unchallenged. As the story says, “The problem is that people are reasonable. They are very reasonable, until they cannot be reasonable anymore.

Red Bark and Ambergris by Kate Marshall (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): In this fantasy world, people who have the ability to ‘sense’ are taken from their homes and imprisoned on a dreary island to work out their lives in service to a cruel queen.  Sarai dreams of becoming a poison-tamer, the only path that may eventually grant her access to the queen and court. However, her natural talent is in constructing beautiful scents to evoke memory and emotion, not taming poisons.  She may never be allowed to return home, but she must decide what meaning she will make of her life.  It was a very emotional story, focused on her internal struggle as represented by the competing talents.  Her eventual conclusion was bittersweet, but it felt fitting.

The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata (Short Story, The world’s slow collapse is reaching its end, and it looks like the human race will not survive.  Susannah has already lost everything, and she has dedicated the remainder of her life to remotely building an obelisk on Mars.  Humanity may pass away, but the obelisk will remain as a memorial.  However, the world hasn’t actually ended quite yet, and events may upset her final plans.  This story is kind of a tearjerker, but it is also about the importance of not giving in to despair.  Susannah is a very emotionally engaging character, and following her changing perspective through the story left me feeling more hopeful for the future.   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Read-Along: Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey, Part 4 [END]

Welcome to the final post in the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, book six of The Expanse!  We’re planning to tackle the new book, Persepolis Rising, in January.  If you’d like to join, speak up at our Goodreads group page! This week’s questions were provided by There’s Always Room for One More, and they cover through the end of the book.  Please beware of spoilers from here on out!

1. So - we get up close and personal with Marco Inaros. Reactions?

He is just as awful of a person as I had surmised by seeing him from the perspective of others? I didn’t really enjoy seeing his thoughts about characters I liked, and it seems he’s one of those gross (and dangerous) people who refuse to let exes go.  Further, his sections thoroughly convinced me that he did not have the strategy or vision to really lead the Belt into a stable future.  It was pretty satisfying when his section ended with him and all his followers getting vaporized!    

2. Filip completes his arc - were you surprised? How do you feel about him as a character now? Would you be happy to see his POV in the future?

I was surprised that his character arc didn’t have anything to do with killing all those people or his feelings about it. I feel like him being a mass murderer was really just kind of side-stepped, and he hasn’t even seemed particularly concerned about it (he’s still proud, I guess).  Instead, his arc was about him moving from hero-worshipping his dad to realizing that he’s an abusive manipulator.  I guess the more that see that side of Marco the merrier, but I don’t see any reason to modify my previous opinion of Filip.  I don’t really feel any desire to see more of his perspective, but I hope Naomi finds out he’s not dead.  That will help a bit with her grief and guilt.

3. What do you make of Holden’s choice at the end?

I think it made a lot of sense.  I was facepalming as well, when I heard Avasarala wanted Holden to be the head of the new Belter union.  They’ve tried that.  Fred’s OPA was not exactly a resounding success, though he did his best.  The OPA needs a leader that is a Belter, not an Inner who really wants to help them.

As for which Belter, as much as I have criticized her, I think Michio will do well.  She’ll deal fairly with Belters, and she has already been organizing distribution of goods throughout the Belt.  I got the impression she’s highly visible in Belter society, and people will likely respect that she cared so much about the people of the Belt that she turned against the Free Navy to help them.  I might have chosen Anderson Dawes, just because he’s used to complicated administration work, but I think Michio will be a good choice.

I’ll just say, though, Naomi would have been an awful choice.  Not because I think she couldn’t do it, but because I think she’d be miserable in the job.  She does not strike me as someone who would be happy spending her days administering a complicated trade union.

4. Can Holden's vision succeed? Is it going to be happily ever after?

I think so.  Weirdly enough, this is one of the ideas I was thinking of when Belters started talking about their vanishing niche.  It makes a lot of sense for them to be in charge of trade.  I can see a few potential pitfalls, though.  The Belters have never done anything this large and organized, so there’s bound to be mistakes and growing pains.  Second, a good number of them hate people who live on planets.  Ships with these kinds of folks are likely to price gouge or otherwise abuse colonists.  This could be managed by ensuring frequent trade stops per planet and a rotation of different ships, I think, so that no community is dependent upon any one shipment.  So not exactly happily ever after--they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.  I think the future is brighter for them than it’s looked for a while though!

For a final thought, I loved that Naomi was the one who saved the day, and that she did it through data analysis! I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store in Persepolis Rising!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Published: Harper Voyager (2016), Self-published (2014)
Series: Book 1 of the Wayfarers
Awards Nominated: Arthur C. Clarke Award & Kitchies: Golden Tentacle Award

The Book:

Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there. But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling.

A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she's left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war. Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.”

I’d heard a lot of positive buzz about this series on the internet, so I decided to check it out. I love space opera in general, so it was a pretty easy sell for me. I’m planning to read A Closed and Common Orbit sometime soon!

My Thoughts:

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet does not follow the traditional format of a novel.  Instead, it is more like a television show (e.g., Star Trek, Firefly, Dark Matter ), following episodic adventures that slowly reveal the histories and personalities of the Wayfarer crew.  This approach works for me, both because I generally love these kinds of stories and because the setting and characters of the novel are so interesting.  The Wayfarer has a majority human crew, but humans are a relatively minor species in the galactic community.  I liked how humanity was not in charge or extremely special, but just one of many peoples.  It was neat seeing how the human and alien crew members compromised to create a space to live and work together, whether that involved learning new ways to communicate or handling less than optimal climate control.  Each of them comes from a different background, but they find a way to make the Wayfarer a home.

Since this is more of an episodic/slice-of-life kind of story, there’s not all that much of an overarching plot.  There is the job that initially sets them off on a longer voyage than usual, but the story doesn’t really build up to a climax.  Instead, the culmination of that story feels like another episode.  However, as in many things, it’s not the destination that matters here, but the journey.  As the crew of the Wayfarer stop at different communities and interact with different aliens, the focus shifts from crew member to crew member.  By the end of the novel, I felt like I knew and appreciated each of them.  As is important for a slice-of-life story, it was always a pleasant world to drop back into, just to see what would happen next in their journey.  

Another thing that I enjoyed about this novel was the group dynamics and optimistic atmosphere.  I enjoy stories about groups of people that work together and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Each of the crew is competent at their jobs, and they rely on their skills to face each problem that they meet along the way.  They’re also a close-knit group, and I enjoyed seeing the peace of the community that they created on their ship. They are not merely doing a job together, they are helping to build lives of meaning and purpose for themselves and each other.  They face some very sad events along the way, but it does not overwhelm the story.  These are still people who can accomplish their goals, and who look forward to a brighter future together.  

My Rating: 4/5

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is an entertaining slice-of-life space opera about the crew of a ship called the Wayfarer.  Reminiscent of Firefly and other sci-fi tv shows, the novel introduces details about the main cast through episodic stories.  The journey to the small, angry planet is really the focus, not what will happen once they arrive.  There is not a lot of tension, but the compelling human and alien characters, as well as the interesting universe full of alien cultures, make the story compulsively readable.  I’m looking forward to reading A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers’s next book in this universe!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
Published: Tor, 2006
Awards Won: Hugo and Locus SF Awards
Awards Nominated: Campbell Memorial and Prometheus Awards

The Book:

“Advances in medicine have rescued the elderly Robert Gu, world-class poet, from death’s door.  While he’s admired by many, the people closest to him know him as an abusive and hateful SOB.  While recovering, he lives with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter Miri, a sunny young teen whom he’d never had the opportunity to wound. He has lost his place in the world, and his sense of how he relates to the people in it.  It’s difficult for him to go back to poetry, so he begins the painful process of trying to learn a new generation of technology through adult remedial education.

One thing that particularly grates on Robert is the lack of physical books in this new age, since most information has been digitized into searchable information.  When he learns from others of his generation that a new technology is going to digitize the library of his old university, destroying the books in the process, he falls into their clandestine scheme to throw a spanner in the works. Things are never simple in an interconnected world, though, and Robert has no way to know how far his actions will reach.” ~Allie

I’m finally coming in on reading the last few Hugo winners!  I’m currently reading Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, and then my only remaining unread winner is Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I’ve also read A Shadow Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge years ago, and as far as I can recall, I enjoyed it quite a lot.

My Thoughts:

Rainbows End imagines a fascinating future world filled with new technology.  Connectivity has moved into articles of clothing, and young people can manipulate information and communication with gestures.  I especially enjoyed how technology allowed you to play with perception.  You can transform your surrounding into Middle Earth, but still keep the relevant cues so that you can interact normally in the shared physical reality.  The novel also takes into account the downsides of a highly connected world.  For instance, most work is now about synthesizing information, and non-searchable data structures (like physical books) are neglected.  When most people are interacting through digital avatars, a more literal form of identity theft is also a problem.  Despite the downsides, it’s a very cool world, and one that I was happy to explore.

On the other hand, I was not particularly interested in the abusive jerk of a protagonist, Robert Gu. I’m also not exactly sure why his body was miraculously cured to youth, because it was irrelevant to the story.  Anyway, he has a deeply unpleasant personality, and I sympathized with his family’s dislike of him.  Robert does have a small character arc throughout the book, where he becomes gradually slightly less of an abusive jerk.  This might be a realistic depiction of the extent to which people can actually change, but in fiction it can feel a little unsatisfying. Aside from Robert, though, there were some sympathetic side characters.  His cheerful and intelligent granddaughter Miri was a favorite of mine, as well as his earnest and struggling remedial classmate Juan.  Some of the other elderly also have interesting takes on how to re-integrate into the current society.  For me, there were interesting and likeable characters here, they just weren’t Robert Gu.

Regarding the plot, I think I could best describe it as fitting in the slice-of-life genre.  I’ve seen the novel described as a thriller, but I feel that’s a little misleading.  There is a global conspiracy that may be a threat to the human race, but it’s heavily backgrounded.  The main story is about Robert’s daily life, his work with the remedial education class, and his relationships with his family.  Robert’s big conspiracy is just a plot with his old frenemies to mildly inconvenience the book digitizing/shredding operation.  The implementation of this plot leads to the most action-packed part of the book (which includes a really neat technological riot), but there’s not much narrative payoff from all the chaos.  I enjoyed the page-by-page of seeing life in this interesting future, though, so ultimately I’m happy to have read it.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Rainbows End is a slice-of-life story featuring a jerk protagonist in an interesting future world.  I enjoyed exploring how ubiquitous connectivity affected people’s lives, as well as seeing the clever things that can be accomplished with augmented reality.  The main character, an abusive old man named Robert Gu, has a slight redemption character arc, but it was never enough to really make him likeable for me.  I preferred reading about some of the side characters, such as his granddaughter and his classmates.  There is a big, worldwide conspiracy involved here, but it’s the little, local conspiracies that are the focus of the novel.  This is not my favorite Vinge novel, but I did enjoy exploring its hypothetical future.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Read-Along: Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey, Part 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, book six of The Expanse! This week we’re covering chapters 28-41, and discussion questions were provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.  Feel free to check out our Goodreads page if you’d like to join this or future read-alongs!  And now, beware of the really serious spoilers below.

1. The side of good takes a hit with the sudden death of Fred Johnson, but it doesn't take long for some to start using it toward their own ends. Dawes, in particular, seems to have kingmaker aspirations that won't wait, despite his grief. What did you make of his actions in these chapters?

I think maybe I read him as much more sympathetic than this question implies.  He realized he made a mistake backing Marco, both because Marco was incompetent and because it was the wrong decision.  He understood Marco was a terrible at everything besides charisma, but he thought he could use him to unify the Belt.  

I think his guilt over betraying Fred, and his grief for his death, have pushed him to side with Holden.  It was interesting seeing him make a case for following Holden, even when he didn’t even like the guy himself.  I think he could be a really useful ally, since he is better at manipulating people than Holden will likely ever be.

2. Filip appears to be sliding further toward realising just where, precisely, he really stands with Marco. Do you think he'll slide the rest of the way there before it's too late to do anything? For that matter, given our general attitudes toward him so far, do you feel more sympathy for him now?

Whenever he feels sad about his father treating him poorly, at least he can warm his heart with the pride of knowing he killed over 15 billion people (note my sarcasm).  I don’t think it really matters at this point whether he turns on his father or not, because I don’t see how he has the ability or opportunity to do anything useful for the opposition. Seeing as he hasn’t really changed at all, my attitude towards him is similarly unchanged.  

3. With Avasarala's massive (and massively ambitious) attack upon the Free Navy underway, plans are already having to be altered - though Captain Pa is altering them because of her conscience, rather than (arguably) out of necessity. Did she do the right thing with the Solano, or do you think it will only come back to bite her?

I guess time will tell, but I think she probably did the right thing.  It’s nice that she considers other Belters human, though she isn’t really willing to extend that courtesy to Inners.  That puts her a notch above Marco.  So yeah, I appreciate that she is trying to do the right thing by the Belters. It will probably come back to bite her, but I hope she can handle it when it does.  

4. It's all on the line now, so I have to ask: Do you have any predictions? Desired outcomes? Possibly any POVs remaining you'd like to see before it's all over?

I hope that the Belters aren’t eradicated, and that Earth reaches some kind of stable equilibrium.  I hope that the “Free Navy” problem is more or less handled in this book, so Marco and company won’t be sticking around. I think we’ve been all over with POVs, so I can’t think of anyone in particular that I still want to see.   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
Published: Orbit, 2014
Series: Book 4 in The Expanse

The Book:

The gates have opened the way to a thousand new worlds and the rush to colonise has begun. Settlers looking for a new life stream out from humanity's home planets. Illus, the first human colony on this vast new frontier, is being born in blood and fire. Independent settlers stand against the overwhelming power of a corporate colony ship with only their determination, courage and the skills learned in the long wars of home. Innocent scientists are slaughtered as they try to survey a new and alien world.

James Holden and the crew of his one small ship are sent to make peace in the midst of war and sense in the heart of chaos. But the more he looks at it, the more Holden thinks the mission was meant to fail. And the whispers of a dead man remind him that the great galactic civilisation which once stood on this land is gone. And that something killed them.”

I’ve gotten back into The Expanse, by participating in a months-long read-along of the series to date!  Right now, we’re in the middle of Babylon’s Ashes, and I’m finally starting to catch up with my overall reviews. Cibola Burn is discussed in spoiler-filled detail here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  I don’t intend to give away any major plot points in this review, but do keep in mind that it is the fourth book of a series.  This is a series that needs to be read in order, so there are necessarily some plot spoilers of previous books.

My Thoughts:

At the end of book three, it seemed clear that the next novel would involve the many planets opened up to humanity through the gates.  Cibola Burn does not disappoint on that account, revolving as it does around colonization rights to a new planet known as Illus or New Terra by Belters and Inners, respectively. The planet itself is really interesting, and I like that this series has a bit more of a twist on the ancient, vanished alien civilization.  Illus has its own alien flora and fauna, while also bearing the marks of occupation by the gate makers.  There’s also the lurking threat of whatever destroyed the gate-maker civilization, and the fear that some remnant of it might remain.  Sparking things into action, Holden is bringing the protomolecule to the planet through the form of ghost-Miller.  Safe to say, the planet has a complicated history and biosphere, and it presents some interesting and dangerous challenges to the sudden human intruders.  This ‘alien’ side of the story kept me well and truly hooked.

The human side of the story was in some ways less compelling.  Holden arrives to mediate a dispute between a corporation that has mounted a scientific expedition, and colonists who have settled the planet with no authorization.  This might sound like a story about an evil corporation against plucky survivalists, but the corporation actually seems to intend to act in good faith all around.  The conflict that pulls Holden to the system is perpetrated by a very small subset of people on each side.  Unfortunately, one of those people is the violent, cardboard villain who holds control of the corporation’s security force.  His motivations seemed incredibly thin, so I didn’t ever fully understand why he was so dedicated to causing suffering. I appreciated the more complicated villains of Abaddon’s Gate, and this felt like a step back.  While there were plenty of legitimate reasons for friction between the two populations, having this plotline pushed primarily by a single evil person made the conflict feel forced.  I was much more interested in how the people would respond to the threats that arose from the alien planet itself.

For another thing, the viewpoint characters, aside from Holden, were also a bit bland. I didn’t really dislike any of them, but none of them really had the strength of character of Bobbie or Avasarala, for example.  Their perspectives are worthwhile--corporation scientist Elvi, angry colonist Basia, and corporation security member Havelock--but there seemed to be pretty long stretches of downtime in each of their stories.   Some of their subplots felt more like filler than necessary for the overall story.  It was nice to see the situation from each angle, but at the same time I just wished there was a bit more for them to do.  In a broad sense, though, the events of Cibola Burn have interesting implications for the future of the series.  Finishing this novel left me eager to move on to the next, because I am still invested in the overall story of this universe and the adventures of the crew of the Rocinante.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Cibola Burn is probably my least favorite of the series to date, but I am still on board for continuing the series.  The story features an alien planet with a complicated history, and I enjoyed watching our characters slowly unravel its story. On the other hand, the human conflict of the story was driven by cardboard villains and shown through the perspectives of some unremarkable viewpoint characters.  I felt like most of the non-Holden storylines had just too much filler and not enough of the main story.  It’s still an important volume in the continuing story of The Expanse, it just didn’t thrill me as much as some of the others have.