RogerBW's Blog

Caliban's War, James S. A. Corey 07 May 2016

2012 science fiction, second in The Expanse series. Ganymede, the main supplier of food to the outer system, is attacked and its fragile artificial ecosystem destroyed; Earth and Mars seem likely to go to war again.

But, of course, it wasn't as simple as an attack by one power on the other. Actually, the ways in which it wasn't that simple are quite reminiscent of parts of Leviathan Wakes; once more, someone's aiming to start a war for their own benefit, and horribly dangerous alien supertech is involved; once more, the bad guy revealed at the end of the book is a moustache-twirling stereotyped villain.

The first book had two viewpoints for most of its length; this one has four, and as with most multi-threaded stories some are better than others. James Holden survived the events of the first book and is now hunting pirates for the Outer Planet Alliance; Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper of the Martian Marine Corps sees her unit wiped out, then gets taken to Earth to testify about it to the UN; Chrisjen Avarasala is a senior UN official playing deadly political games; Praxidike Meng is a biologist looking for his immunocompromised daughter, who was kidnapped on Ganymede just before things went to hell. (Everyone will end up on the same ship eventually, which makes the viewpoint shifts seem rather pointless in places.)

Three of these four people are used to tough situations and can get on with what they need to do. Meng isn't, and messes up. Yes, there's a difference between people who have lived violence and those who've only read about it, but for my taste this ended up taking rather too much narrative time away from the more interesting people.

In the first book, Holden played off Miller, the idealist versus the burned-out gumshoe. Here there's no Miller, and the conflict is mostly in Holden's head, which spills into the crew dynamic of the ship he's running; but the authors aren't as good as portraying interior conflict as they are at exterior.

Draper and Avarasala are more effective female characters than anyone in the first book, which is great, but they only occasionally come over as female rather than gender-neutral. It's a start, I suppose, but it feels a bit too much like men speculating about how women think without actually having talked much with any women.

What this book really lacks is mystery: from Draper's first chapter you can work out roughly what's going on, and there won't be any surprises after that, just minor twists and turns on the way to the conclusion. (Well, slight surprise that the villains have apparently never seen Aliens and don't know how attempts to weaponise alien supertech always end.) The pace stays fast, perhaps a little too fast in the conclusion, and there's an ending that's blatant setup for the next book.

It's OK, I guess, but it doesn't leave me slavering to read more. Followed in the main series by Abaddon's Gate.

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