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.