Series: The Expanse #2
Published by Orbit on June 26, 2012
Genres: Science Fiction
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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.
“But humans hadn’t been living and working in space nearly long enough for the primitive part of the brain not to say, I’ll fall. I’ll fall forever.” pg 487, Caliban’s War
The Expanse is a large scope space opera series with new books published consistently every year and an ambitious TV series adaptation set to premiere in late 2015 on SyFy. The series imagines a future where humanity has colonized the solar system but has yet to reach beyond. You can read my review of the first book (Leviathan Wakes) here. The fifth novel in the series (Nemesis Games) was released on June 2nd, 2015.
Book two of The Expanse certainly lives up to the series’ name as Caliban’s War introduces a slew of new characters to the mix. The book doubles the amount of character perspectives from Leviathan Wakes with three of the four POVs coming from new characters. Prax, Bobbie and Avasarala join Holden as POV characters. Alternating among the perspective of these four characters gives the reader a grand view of the events of Caliban’s War as each character has a unique stake in the story being told.
The story itself is worthy of this expansion as it builds upon the solar system shattering events of Leviathan Wakes with the patience and careful plotting of writers who know what story they want to tell. James S.A. Corey (the pen name of writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) writes Caliban’s War as a yarn that’s just itching to show how grandiose The Expanse could and will become. Corey uses this sense of impending expansion to keep the reader gripped even as, unfortunately, the story treads some familiar territory.
Like Leviathan Wakes, a pivotal storyline in Caliban’s War involves a missing girl. The circumstances are very different from the search for Julie Mao that propelled the plot in the first book, but similarities in the basic structure of the story are hard to ignore. What made the missing person case in Leviathan Wakes so engaging was how it gave the novel a noir twist. The search for Mei Meng in Caliban’s War isn’t as stylized. In fact, there’s a point in Caliban’s War where finding Mei, or even just resuming the search itself, becomes somewhat of a back burner plot line. Even still, it is the thread that drives a story and it didn’t derail the plot of Caliban’s War.
At the center of the novel is Holden and his crew aboard their Martian military vessel the Rocinante. I really appreciated the way Corey continued to develop the crew of the Rocinante throughout Caliban’s War. Here the misfits are bound even closer together while each character gets properly fleshed out. The relationship between Holden and crewmember Naomi is more deeply explored throughout these pages as Holden deals with how the events of Leviathan Wakes affected him. Meanwhile, Amos (the ship’s mechanic and muscle) gets some wonderful characterization courtesy of his interactions with newcomer Prax.
The novel doesn’t shy away from Holden’s character flaws. This is cause for both praise and concern. Throughout Caliban’s War, Holden is only slightly less naive and reactionary as he was in Leviathan Wakes, which makes sense in terms of character development. But throughout this book, he makes rash decisions that are occasionally the exact same actions he took in Leviathan Wakes. It shows that Holden is a stubborn idealist, but it’s frustrating that he seems oblivious to how his actions in the first book affected all of humanity. Holden comes across as a moron at times.
The new characters are all introduced well and built into strong individual characters. Prax, the father of missing girl Mei, is filled with heartbreaking emotional distress that’s reflected wonderfully in his chapters. There’s one chapter in particular early in the novel that deserves special mention. He’s wandering around the war zone of Ganymede Station. He’s delirious from lack of sleep, lack of food and water, and lack of direction. He’s frantic to find any help he can. However, throughout the chapter, he’s witnessing the horror Ganymede’s residents are facing as they too search for hope in the open war zone. Corey describes everything so beautifully that this chapter stayed with me for a while after reading it. It was haunting.
Elsewhere, Avasarala is an old, foulmouthed politician who acts as the readers’ gateway to the political climate behind crumbling Earth/Mars relations. While she is a joy to read, some of the political drama left me slightly unsatisfied. It wasn’t boring; it was just not my favorite subplot. Bobbie, on the other hand, provides readers with a more militant perspective on the war and humanity’s willful ignorance when it comes to the bigger threat.
Leviathan Wakes introduced an alien threat to the characters of The Expanse’s universe. Yet, Caliban’s War’s politicians and soldiers are willfully ignoring the threat in favor of human-on-human conflict. It’s reminiscent (perhaps a little too much so) of how the kingdoms of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire react to the threat of White Walkers invading. It makes sense within the world of Caliban’s War and, frankly, later in the book it actually makes a lot more sense. I just wish the human reaction to the alien events of Leviathan Wakes was explored here more.
Lucky for me, Caliban’s War ends on a high note and left me extremely eager to see what James S.A. Corey has in store for me in book three: Abaddon’s Gate. The Expanse currently boasts 5 books with 4 more projected through 2019 as well as several novellas and short stories released just as regularly. Caliban’s War expands upon what was established in the series’ first novel and leaves readers on a high note with a promise that the world Corey is building is only getting bigger.
“He’d read accounts of extravehicular euphoria, but the experience was unlike anything he’d imagined. He was the eye of God, drinking in the light of infinite stars, and he was a speck of dust on a speck of dust, clipped by his mag boots to the body of a ship unthinkably more powerful than himself and unimportant before the face of the abyss.” pg. 298, Caliban’s War