Caliban’s War

Caliban: from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A subhuman offspring who seeks to repopulate his region with others like himself.

This book is the second in the The Expanse series written by James S. A. Covey. I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite books during the current publishing lull, and I read through the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, in about three days. I knew that I should take a couple of days off to catch up on other things but I dived right into the second book of the series, Caliban’s War. I just loved the characters so much I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them.

Well, that was a bad decision in terms of completing important tasks such as getting my income tax filed, house cleaned, and garden started, etc. Time stopped for me as I raced through the book in this, my third reading. Now to write about why this book was so good. I decided to call my sister, the English major, to get some help. “Oh, she says, “I never think about why I like the book. I really like how the book is written.” Oh, dear. I’m not qualified to talk about literary craftsmanship (I once asked a fellow teacher, in all seriousness, what a “thesis statement” was…), so I guess I’ll focus on the elements that compelled me to stay in bed all day reading the book.

This book picks up the story about a year after the events in Leviathan Wakes. It continues the tale of the Rocinante, the ship crewed by the survivors of a horrific attack on an ice mining ship. In the first book the crew saved the Earth from an alien technology (the Protomolecule) that would consume and remake all living matter according to its own design by crashing the asteroid carrying it onto Venus. There, that’s the end of that!

Nope. The game is still afoot: political entities and/or unknown corporations are secretly developing new technology using the Protomolecule with little regard for the welfare of others. Once again, seemingly random events occurring in different regions of the solar system need to be connected to figure out what is happening.

The old crew of the Rocinante remains intact, and during the book new characters join them. The characters grow in the telling of the tale, and I really like all of them. The story is told in Caliban’s War from the perspectives of Holden, Rocinante’s captain, and the new characters;  their understandings and viewpoints create a richness to the story that is really compelling.

One of the themes of Caliban’s War is that of system cascades. In biological and other systems, damage to a portion of the interconnected system can be repaired or compensated for by other units in the system. As the cascade gains momentum, however, everything begins to fall apart. This happens on Ganymede, the site of greenhouses that grow the majority of the food for the outer belt region of the solar system, but it also occurs with the clandestine Protomolecule research, the political status quo of the solar system, and even to some extent to the characters we meet in this book. All three of the new characters become damaged in some way, but each recovers, redirects, overcomes fears, and regains competence. They are not taken down by their individual system cascades. They ask the big questions, collect information, make correlations, and shrug off misdirection.

Here they are:

  • Bobbie:  Martian marine, and the sole survivor of the Protomolecule technology monster attack that triggers a shooting war between Mars and Earth. She ends up on Earth as part of the investigation into the events on Ganymede where the attack happened, and joins the staff of an Earth government official. Suffering from PTSD, in a place and job that is not her own, we don’t understand at first how very, very competent she is. Oh, did I mention that she has mechanized armor with kick-ass weapons attached?
  • Prax: Ganymede botanist and single father of Mei, a child with an immune system disorder who is abducted just prior to Bobbie’s monster’s attack on Ganymede. Starving, distraught, and desperate, he seeks Holden’s assistance to get his daughter back. His focus, drive, and insights, due to his personality and scientific training, are essential components in  the story  as seemingly unconnected events come together.
  • Avasarala: Earth government official and diplomat, she is shockingly foul-mouthed and direct. She adds Bobbie to her staff when she realizes Bobbie is the only witness to a Protomolecule weapon attack. Anchored by a remarkable and loving marriage, she relentlessly pursues the answer to Bobbie’s question: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the monster?” In a solar system whose planetary power politics and economic concerns drive actions and policy, she maneuvers to discover the truth behind Protomolecule weapons development while keeping a nervous eye on Venus where the Protomolecule from Leviathan Wakes is actively growing and building something.

See, great characters. As the events in the story proceed they all arrive on the Rocinante to join Holden and the crew. As the Rocinante’s crew interacts with the newcomers they grow and we learn more about them. What’s even better about this is that these rich characters and interactions occur within the context of SPACE OPERA! There are space battles, monster attacks, zombies, guns, explosions, you name it. The science is believable (even the zombies), the story well-constructed, and never a dull moment for the reader. There were a couple of points where I would have been biting my nails if I wasn’t flipping pages so quickly.

And that’s why I just read the book for the third time.

 

 

 

Leviathan Wakes Again!

I love a good science fiction story. I’m always on the hunt for one with compelling characters, a well-developed story, space ships and some action while we’re at it. That’s not that much to ask for, is it? Sadly, I haven’t found that many book in the genre to love, and when I find a book that I like, I follow the author and read everything that I can get my hands on that they have written. Since I’m waiting for the next books by these authors to be published, I decided to re-read some of the old favorites.

This the the book that I've been lost in for the last three days.
This the the book that I’ve been lost in for the last three days.

This is why I just finished reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey for the THIRD time. This time I read it in just a few days, and am currently galloping through the sequels.

I don’t feel that I’m really qualified to review the book (majored in science so I wouldn’t have to write any term papers…), but I have been reflecting on why I’m so drawn to this story and the characters. Here’s what I came up with.

The game is afoot: political entities and/or unknown corporations are secretly developing a new technology captured from space with little regard for the welfare of others. Seemingly random events are the only indications of a horrific undertaking; it is extremely unlikely that anyone will figure out what is happening until it is too late.

Except, of course, the heroes of the story. The events of the book unfold and are told in juxtaposition by two men of very different upbringings and occupations who are strangely alike.

Holden: raised on Earth in a multi-parent family unit that provided him with a stable and highly nurturing upbringing, he is honest, idealistic, self-righteous, and believes that if everyone has access to information they will be the correct choices. OK, he is a little self-absorbed, unsophisticated and politically unaware, but he also is driven to do the “right thing” and provides the type of leadership as captain of the Rocinante to pull a rag-tag crew of scrambling survivors through crisis and into a family type unit. His crew trusts him because he is “righteous”.

Miller: raised in the low gravity and extremely fragile environment of Ceres, he is worn down from years of police detective work in a society living on the edge. Extremely intuitive and resourceful in his investigative work, he is pragmatic, jaded, exhausted, and alone. He struggles with alcohol. He lacks social skills. While pursuing a missing person case he realizes that his subject is linked to larger events; he doggedly continues his investigation with little regard for personal consequences. He is able to do the “right thing” no matter what the cost.

The two men are so different because they have grown up in greatly different circumstances; one in the high gravity and relative safety of an inner planet (Earth), and the other in the low gravity of the Belt region of the solar system. Residents of the two regions differ in body shape (Belters are tall and thin), language, behaviors and priorities. This layer of complexity in another reason why I like this book so much. The very real problems created by these differences were realistically portrayed in the book and very believable.

Finally, I just like the science in the book. I hate books that beat me over the head with scientific information and justifications. You know, books that tell me how many missiles have been fired, and how many “g’s” they have, and the time lapse for the viewers, and the operational flight plans for the space fleet, and the physics of the missile drives, and just shoot me now – I’m flipping pages until the battle is over. In this book the science was there, but not too technical. Newton’s Laws were operational, distances between planets and asteroids and moons were reasonable, perspectives shifted as ships went under drive, and it was all fun. The characters even think like scientists, although since one of them is a police detective that is reasonable. They struggle with bias and misconceptions, but faithfully follow the data to logical conclusions that, no matter how crazy they seem, are correct.

Oh yeah, there is one more reason I like the books. Remember the rag-tag crew of scrambling survivors? While the Rocinante isn’t Serenity, the dynamics of crew interactions remind me of Firefly. They are a family, they eat meals together, and there is always some gunplay right around the corner. Gosh, I sure do miss that show. Reading these books are the closest I can get to new episodes. J