Book Review: Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4)
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 17, 2014
Length: 581 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure. 

One of my reading goals for 2020 is to make progress with the sci-fi book series The Expanse — and now that I’ve read book #4, I can safely say that I’m off to a great start!

Before going into the book, its plot, or why it’s so great, I should state up front that there will be spoilers! I can’t talk about the 4th book in a series, or a book with an amazing TV adaptation, without getting into specifics.

There. You’ve been warned. Turn away if you don’t want to know!

Cibola Burn picks up after the events in book #3, Abaddon’s Gate, in which a mysterious alien ring provides a conduit of wormholes leading to thousands of unknown worlds. As the story continues in book #4, humans are eager to explore and exploit the resources of all of these new planets, but caution and legal complications are keeping a land rush on hold — for now.

One group of settlers, after being in homeless, planetless limbo for years, makes a dash through the rings and sets up a new colony on the planet Ilus, where they find a rich source of lithium ore, potentially representing enough value for them to truly create a livable world for themselves and their children.

But because there are fortunes to be made, the squatters’ rights aren’t allowed to stand, and an Earth corporation, the RCE, is granted a charter to explore and develop the planet, which they call New Terra.

Tensions are high, and when a militant group of settlers blows up the landing pad RCE is about to use and deaths result, it seems like violence is inevitable.

Enter our heroes, Captain Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Holden is the idealistic man who has time and again found himself at the center of interplanetary intrigue and war, and who always follows his conscience and does the right thing, even when it’s counter to his own interests or the interests of the political factions who think they own Holden’s allegiance. Rounding out the crew are pilot Alex Kamal, XO Naomi Nagata, and mechanic/muscle Amos Burton. Over the years, these four have formed a family, and their loyalty and love is a wonderful thing to behold.

The Rocinante is send by the UN to act as mediator between the settlers and the RCE, and of course, it all goes to shit pretty much from the start. There’s a murderous head of security, settler terrorists, and the not minor fact that the planet is populated by both deadly organic species and seemingly dormant alien artifacts that — obviously — have the potential to wipe out all human life… if the humans don’t manage to kill each other off first.

“Apocalyptic explosions, dead reactors, terrorists, mass murder, death-slugs, and now a blindness plague. This is a terrible planet…”

Yup. Death-slugs. How would you like to be surrounded by death-slugs while losing your eyesight? Shudder. Space exploration is clearly not for me. I prefer a death-slug-free environment, thank you very much.

The writing is fast-paced and exciting, so much so that I finished this almost 600-page book in about 2 and a half days. The dictionary should have a picture of Cibola Burn as the definition of “page-turner”.

The action isn’t at the expense of character: Each of our four main characters get a chance to shine. I’m particularly fond of Amos, the sociopathic enforcer who loves his captain, his crew, and his weapons. The authors (yes, James S. A. Corey is actually two people) seem to take special delight in writing for Amos.

“What,” Holden said, “is all this?”

“You said to gear up for the drop.”

“I meant, like, underwear and toothbrushes.”

“Captain,” Amos said, almost hiding his impatience. “They’re killing each other down there. Half a dozen RCE security vanished into thin air, and a heavy lift shuttle got blown up.”

“Yes, and our job is not to escalate that. Put all this shit away. Sidearms only. Bring clothes and sundries for us, any spare medical supplies for the colony. But that’s it.”

“Later,” Amos said, “when you’re wishing we had this stuff, I am going to be merciless in my mockery. And then we’ll die.”

Another Holden/Amos conversation:

“Okay. Murtry’s pissed about the rescue.”

“Yeah, but fuck him.”

“I also,” Holden continued, “may have shoved him down and stolen his hand terminal.”

“Stop making me fall in love with you, Cap, we both know it can’t go anywhere.”

Besides the Rocinante crew, there are several other POV characters, including both RCE and settlers, and I enjoyed seeing the unfolding events from their perspectives.

I will say thought that the only thing that bothered me in Cibola Burn was scientist Elvi’s infatuation with Holden. It was unnecessary and oddly demeaning for her character, and even though it eventually unfolds that it was more about her hunger for human connection that about Holden himself, it’s an off-putting choice to have this amazing scientist suffering through school-girl crush symptoms.

Now, you may be wondering how the books relates to the (excellent) TV series, currently airing its 4th season via its new home on Amazon Prime. The 4th season has the events on Ilus/New Terra as its centerpiece, but also includes quite a bit of action with Earth politics, Mars crime, and Belter terrorism. None of this really comes into play in book #4, although based on what I’ve read about book #5, I’m guessing those plots will all feature heavily there.

Listen, if you haven’t read any of these book or watched the TV series — and if you’re a fan of science fiction — then start one or the other, or both! The books are long but absolutely obsession-worthy, and the massive page volume just flies by.

The TV series is brilliantly done, and I’m tempted to start over again from the beginning just to enjoy it all once more.

And I can’t wrap up talking about The Expanse without a shout-out to Chrisjen Avasarala, who is a great book character but an absolutely AMAZING TV character. Played by the glorious Shohreh Aghdashloo, Avasarala is a glamorous, powerful, foul-mouthed woman who is always ten steps ahead and gives zero fucks for anyone or anything that gets in her way.

So let’s finish up with a look at Avasarala’s greatest hits, because even though this is a book review, it’s all from the same world, and any day I can hear Avasarala dropping f-bombs is a glorious day indeed.

Oh yeah. Back to the book. Read it. It’s terrific. Start at the first book, and keep going! As for me, because of the huge size of these books and the frighteningly huge size of my TBR pile, I’m going to hit pause on the book series and wait a bit before starting #5, Nemesis Games. Still, I don’t think I’ll be able to wait for long… I may just need to power through the remaining four available books long before 2020 grows much older.

Reading goals: Series to read in 2020

I always see a new year as a clean slate for my bookish dreams.

I tend not to set specific reading goals, other than keeping up with the books I buy and the never-ending ARCs waiting to be read.

But where I do like to plan ahead at the start of a year is with my series reading. A new year represents a chance to tackle a series that I’ve been wanting to get to. For me, series are most enjoyable when I can read all (or at least, a bunch) of the books in a row, or at least within a few months of each other.

Bearing in mind that none of this is written in stone, since my reading plans change with my changing moods…

In 2020, my priority series to read will be:

The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal – a completed five-book series:

The Interdependency Series by John Scalzi – the 3rd book in the trilogy will be released in April, so this might be a good time to get started!

The Expanse by James S. A. Corey: I’ve read books 1 – 3 already, and need to get back into the story! Watching season 4 of the TV series is helping a lot with my motivation! Next up for me is:

And who knows, maybe I’ll keep going. There are 8 full novels in the series so far, all over 500 pages, so I have my work cut out for me.

Poldark by Winston Graham – 12 books in all, and I’ve read 7. My understanding is that book #8 jumps ahead quite a bit and takes place after the events of the complete TV series, so I’ve been less eager to move forward with this one. Still, I really should see how it all works out!

Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black – I just bought myself a copy of The Cruel Prince, and assuming I like it (and why wouldn’t I?), I’ll want to read all three books!

 

That’s it for my 2020 priority list… but wait, there’s more!

I still have my eye on a bunch of series/trilogies/what-have-you that I intend to read… eventually. Maybe 2020 will finally be the year… and maybe not. My will-get-to-at-some-point list of series includes:

  • Kitty Norville urban fantasy series by Carrie Vaughn
  • Parasitology trilogy by Mira Grant (because even though the subject is totally icky, I think these are her only books that I haven’t read yet, which is unacceptable!)
  • Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
  • The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters
  • Wayward Pines books by Blake Crouch
  • Inheritance trilogy and/or Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin

Are you planning to start any new series this year? If you’ve read any of the series on my “priority” list, let me know what you thought!

Thursday Quotables: Abaddon’s Gate

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, #3) by James S. A. Corey
(released 2013)

There’s nothing like a great sci-fi adventure to make the reading hours fly by! While much of this book is action, action, and more action, the characters are also very well-developed, and their thoughts can be quite entertaining:

Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it’s a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it’s a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it’s a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.

Three books into the series, the crew is a family, and their banter is always a pleasure.

“We don’t want to get in a gunfight,” Holden warned Amos as they began moving again.

“Yeah,” Amos said. “But if we’re in one anyway, it’ll be nice to have guns.”

A note on Thursday Quotables: I more or less took the summer off from keeping up my weekly memes, and I’m not entirely back yet. Sorry for the unpredictability! I aim to do Thursday Quotables when I can this month, and then settle back into routine in September.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

Holy moly, I love this series.

Abaddon’s Gate is the 3rd book in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the pretty awesome TV series on Syfy (season 3 expected in 2018). (Check out an earlier post of mine about the series, here.)

In book 3, a brand new set of circumstances has opened up for the people of our solar system — Earthers, Martians, and Belters — and what to do about these new circumstances plunges the crew of the Rocinante right back into insane levels of danger.

(I realize this review will likely be gobbledygook for anyone not familiar with the earlier books in the series. Sorry about that.)

Our fearless leader, James Holden, and his ragtag crew have been through all sorts of hell so far, and just when they’ve settled into a rather profitable business as a cargo ship, along comes trouble. The structures built by the protomolecule have opened up a portal of some sort beyond Uranus’s orbit (no jokes please — we’re all adults, right?), and the fleets of the three main powers have all assembled nearby the portal — called the Ring — to make sure no one gets an advantage over the others.

And of course, it’s Holden and the Rocinante who ends up hurtling through the Ring into what they call the Slow Zone — a space between, a still zone lined with thousands of gates to other worlds, some open, some closed. And here’s where the trouble really begins. Because none of the ships or their nations trust one another, they all end up going after Holden… and things go very, very badly.

Abaddon’s Gate is another big, huge book in a series composed of big, huge books. I’ll admit that the first third or so at times felt like a bit of a slog. Other than Holden and his crew, there are almost no familiar characters from the previous books, which means that the reader has a whole new set of complicated relationships, motivations, and power struggles to sort through. It feels overwhelming at first.

Trust me, it’s worth it. Once I got a bit further in, I was hooked. Some of the new characters blend in with others we’ve known — more soldiers, technicians, etc — but there are certainly some stellar, memorable new characters, among them the priest Anna and the heroic Belter officer Bull. The action is unrelenting, and it’s fascinating to see the unimagined dangers facing all the ships and humans as they enter a zone where the rules of physics as they know them no longer apply.

I highly recommend this series — books and TV — to anyone who loves a good space opera. It’s got outstanding characters, complex plotting, and mind-blowing world-building. What more could you want?

I can’t wait to start the 4th book, Cibola Burn.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, #3)
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Length: 539 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Leviathan Wakes and The Expanse: Book, TV… amazing science fiction!

I just finished this massive book today, and I swear I’ve been reading it for EONS. (Okay, it’s been 10 days, but that seems like forever relative to my normal reading pace).

leviathan-wakesLeviathan Wakes is book #1 in the ongoing series The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (which is actually a pen name for two co-authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The paperback I’ve been lugging around with me is HUGE – 560 pages, about the size of a doorstop, and must weigh close to a ton. (It’s true! My arms are aching.)

The book series has also been adapted into a TV series on Syfy, season 2 of which just premiered this past week. No, I haven’t seen the beginning of season 2 yet. I wanted to finish book #1 first.

The world of The Expanse — TV and book — is set far enough into the future that human life has spread throughout the solar system. Earth and Mars are the inner planets, two independent political forces, and then there’s the Belt — the asteroid belt that’s become a source of mining and resources in service to the inner planets. Belters are an underclass, dependent on Earth and Mars, filled with a discontented people who are agitating for freedom. Earth and Mars have wealth and military might. The Belt is cramped, dirty, underfed, crime-ridden, and downtrodden. There’s a class war ready to explode, and it doesn’t take much to set it off.

Our hero is James Holden, who finds himself captain of a small rogue vessel after an untraceable attack on his home ship leaves him and his crew stranded in space. The anti-hero, of sorts, is Detective Miller, a Belter whose missing-persons case takes on intergalactic significance and brings him in league with Holden and his crew on board the Rocinante.

I really shouldn’t go into a whole lot more detail than that, although if you want a recap of season 1 of the TV show, there’s this brilliant video to check out:

I loved reading the book. I originally started it after watching the first season of the TV show, which has so many political factions and plots and military escapades that I thought the book might help me untangle it all. And it did. The book has a narrower scope in some ways than the TV production. Much of the politics, in particular all of the scenes set on Earth, are not in the book. Sadly, I missed one of the show’s stand-out characters, Avasarala, although I understand that she enters the book series world in the 2nd book.

THE EXPANSE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala -- (Photo by: Amanda Demme/Syfy)

THE EXPANSE — Season:1 — Pictured: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala — (Photo by: Amanda Demme/Syfy)

Another difference between book 1 and season 1 — season 1 ends at about the midpoint of the book’s plot… which makes me even more excited to dive into season 2, now that I know what’s still to come.

All in all, I’d say the creators of the show have done a remarkable job of capturing the universe of the books, combining elements of the first couple of books (or so I’ve been told) in order to achieve a visual and narrative trajectory that makes sense. The drama never lets up; we get some amazing space battles; there are truly stand-out personalities introduced, and the cast does a great job of bringing to life the complexities of the individuals who make up the whole.

I know I’m jumping around a lot here, because that’s just how my brain is processing all the data at the moment. I turned the final page of the book literally an hour ago, and my mind is whirring.

I suppose Leviathan Wakes would be considered “hard” science fiction. You know, space ships and technology and lasers and all that. But the human element elevates the whole into just really great storytelling, with exciting action and people who seem real enough to make us care.

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The crew of the Rocinante

I think anyone who enjoyed Battlestar Galactica will love The Expanse. Likewise, fans of the Killjoys series will find some common themes in the class struggles and solar system dynamics portrayed here.

As for the book, I am thrilled that I finally took the time to read Leviathan Wakes, despite feeling at times like I would never reach the end. From the midpoint onward, the momentum never stops, and I think I must have read the final third just within the past 24 hours. I swore that I would read just one for now… but now that I’ve finished Leviathan Wakes, I have to know what happens next!

Fortunately, it’ll probably take me a couple of weeks to get my hands on a copy of book 2, Caliban’s War… but once I do, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep myself from diving back into this incredible series.

For more info on season 2 of The Expanse, check out this great piece on the politics of the series.

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