Sunday, November 19, 2017

Read-Along: Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey, Part 3


Welcome to week three of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, book six of The Expanse! This week we’re covering chapters 28-41, and discussion questions were provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.  Feel free to check out our Goodreads page if you’d like to join this or future read-alongs!  And now, beware of the really serious spoilers below.

1. The side of good takes a hit with the sudden death of Fred Johnson, but it doesn't take long for some to start using it toward their own ends. Dawes, in particular, seems to have kingmaker aspirations that won't wait, despite his grief. What did you make of his actions in these chapters?

I think maybe I read him as much more sympathetic than this question implies.  He realized he made a mistake backing Marco, both because Marco was incompetent and because it was the wrong decision.  He understood Marco was a terrible at everything besides charisma, but he thought he could use him to unify the Belt.  

I think his guilt over betraying Fred, and his grief for his death, have pushed him to side with Holden.  It was interesting seeing him make a case for following Holden, even when he didn’t even like the guy himself.  I think he could be a really useful ally, since he is better at manipulating people than Holden will likely ever be.

2. Filip appears to be sliding further toward realising just where, precisely, he really stands with Marco. Do you think he'll slide the rest of the way there before it's too late to do anything? For that matter, given our general attitudes toward him so far, do you feel more sympathy for him now?

Whenever he feels sad about his father treating him poorly, at least he can warm his heart with the pride of knowing he killed over 15 billion people (note my sarcasm).  I don’t think it really matters at this point whether he turns on his father or not, because I don’t see how he has the ability or opportunity to do anything useful for the opposition. Seeing as he hasn’t really changed at all, my attitude towards him is similarly unchanged.  

3. With Avasarala's massive (and massively ambitious) attack upon the Free Navy underway, plans are already having to be altered - though Captain Pa is altering them because of her conscience, rather than (arguably) out of necessity. Did she do the right thing with the Solano, or do you think it will only come back to bite her?

I guess time will tell, but I think she probably did the right thing.  It’s nice that she considers other Belters human, though she isn’t really willing to extend that courtesy to Inners.  That puts her a notch above Marco.  So yeah, I appreciate that she is trying to do the right thing by the Belters. It will probably come back to bite her, but I hope she can handle it when it does.  

4. It's all on the line now, so I have to ask: Do you have any predictions? Desired outcomes? Possibly any POVs remaining you'd like to see before it's all over?

I hope that the Belters aren’t eradicated, and that Earth reaches some kind of stable equilibrium.  I hope that the “Free Navy” problem is more or less handled in this book, so Marco and company won’t be sticking around. I think we’ve been all over with POVs, so I can’t think of anyone in particular that I still want to see.   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
Published: Orbit, 2014
Series: Book 4 in The Expanse

The Book:

The gates have opened the way to a thousand new worlds and the rush to colonise has begun. Settlers looking for a new life stream out from humanity's home planets. Illus, the first human colony on this vast new frontier, is being born in blood and fire. Independent settlers stand against the overwhelming power of a corporate colony ship with only their determination, courage and the skills learned in the long wars of home. Innocent scientists are slaughtered as they try to survey a new and alien world.

James Holden and the crew of his one small ship are sent to make peace in the midst of war and sense in the heart of chaos. But the more he looks at it, the more Holden thinks the mission was meant to fail. And the whispers of a dead man remind him that the great galactic civilisation which once stood on this land is gone. And that something killed them.” ~WWEnd.com

I’ve gotten back into The Expanse, by participating in a months-long read-along of the series to date!  Right now, we’re in the middle of Babylon’s Ashes, and I’m finally starting to catch up with my overall reviews. Cibola Burn is discussed in spoiler-filled detail here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  I don’t intend to give away any major plot points in this review, but do keep in mind that it is the fourth book of a series.  This is a series that needs to be read in order, so there are necessarily some plot spoilers of previous books.

My Thoughts:

At the end of book three, it seemed clear that the next novel would involve the many planets opened up to humanity through the gates.  Cibola Burn does not disappoint on that account, revolving as it does around colonization rights to a new planet known as Illus or New Terra by Belters and Inners, respectively. The planet itself is really interesting, and I like that this series has a bit more of a twist on the ancient, vanished alien civilization.  Illus has its own alien flora and fauna, while also bearing the marks of occupation by the gate makers.  There’s also the lurking threat of whatever destroyed the gate-maker civilization, and the fear that some remnant of it might remain.  Sparking things into action, Holden is bringing the protomolecule to the planet through the form of ghost-Miller.  Safe to say, the planet has a complicated history and biosphere, and it presents some interesting and dangerous challenges to the sudden human intruders.  This ‘alien’ side of the story kept me well and truly hooked.

The human side of the story was in some ways less compelling.  Holden arrives to mediate a dispute between a corporation that has mounted a scientific expedition, and colonists who have settled the planet with no authorization.  This might sound like a story about an evil corporation against plucky survivalists, but the corporation actually seems to intend to act in good faith all around.  The conflict that pulls Holden to the system is perpetrated by a very small subset of people on each side.  Unfortunately, one of those people is the violent, cardboard villain who holds control of the corporation’s security force.  His motivations seemed incredibly thin, so I didn’t ever fully understand why he was so dedicated to causing suffering. I appreciated the more complicated villains of Abaddon’s Gate, and this felt like a step back.  While there were plenty of legitimate reasons for friction between the two populations, having this plotline pushed primarily by a single evil person made the conflict feel forced.  I was much more interested in how the people would respond to the threats that arose from the alien planet itself.

For another thing, the viewpoint characters, aside from Holden, were also a bit bland. I didn’t really dislike any of them, but none of them really had the strength of character of Bobbie or Avasarala, for example.  Their perspectives are worthwhile--corporation scientist Elvi, angry colonist Basia, and corporation security member Havelock--but there seemed to be pretty long stretches of downtime in each of their stories.   Some of their subplots felt more like filler than necessary for the overall story.  It was nice to see the situation from each angle, but at the same time I just wished there was a bit more for them to do.  In a broad sense, though, the events of Cibola Burn have interesting implications for the future of the series.  Finishing this novel left me eager to move on to the next, because I am still invested in the overall story of this universe and the adventures of the crew of the Rocinante.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Cibola Burn is probably my least favorite of the series to date, but I am still on board for continuing the series.  The story features an alien planet with a complicated history, and I enjoyed watching our characters slowly unravel its story. On the other hand, the human conflict of the story was driven by cardboard villains and shown through the perspectives of some unremarkable viewpoint characters.  I felt like most of the non-Holden storylines had just too much filler and not enough of the main story.  It’s still an important volume in the continuing story of The Expanse, it just didn’t thrill me as much as some of the others have.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Read-Along: Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey, Part 2


Welcome to week 2 of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, book 6 of The Expanse!  This week’s questions cover chapters 14-27, and are provided by The Illustrated Page. If you’re interested in joining in, check out our Goodreads page.  Beware of spoilers from here on out!
 
1. So far we've gotten POVs from Namono, Pa, Filip, Holden, Salis, Clarissa, Dawes, Avasarala, Prax, Alex, Naomi, Jakulski, Fred, and Bobbie. Do you have any favorites? Least favorites? Of the characters who's POVs we haven't gotten yet in Babylon's Ashes, who do you most want to see?

It’s kind of dizzying, seeing the story from so many different angles.  I guess my favorite so far would be Holden, mostly because he has multiple chapters that appear to be building to something.  I am enjoying his “People of the Belt” series, and it was great to see that others are starting to pick it up as well.  Pa and Filip also have recurring chapters, but I don’t really like them very much.  Their chapters sort of feel like they’re trying to make me have sympathy for people who are pro-genocide, and I just don’t.

Out of the one-off chapters, I really enjoyed seeing the world from Fred’s eyes.  He’s a character that I’ve really come to appreciate over the series, so it was neat to have a little insight into how he sees the universe.  My least favorite one-off chapters would be the people I don’t really know--Salis, Jakulski, Dawes.  I don’t have any emotional connection with the characters, positive or negative, and there isn’t really enough time in their chapters for me to try to build it.

As for who else I want to see, I would like to see Pastor Anna (or Namono again).  She was hurt very badly, and I’m worried their family is not going to make it.  It’s also a little odd we’ve had no Amos chapter yet, so I’d like to see what’s going on in his mind.  Finally, it would be neat to get some Earther refugee chapters, maybe Erich or one of Holden’s parents.  I’m trying to resist looking up who’s coming in the second half of the book, in order to preserve the surprise!    

2. Marco's left Ceres. Is this a smart move? Is he abandoning the people of the Belt? And what do you think has happened to Dawes?

I think this is a case of “whatever happens, I win”.  I think he realized he couldn’t hold the station, so he needed to come up with a way to retreat and still claim a victory.  He’s absolutely abandoning the people of the Belt, but I think any Belter who’s been paying attention must know that he doesn’t actually care about them by now. I have no idea what happened to Dawes.  Was he not with the Free Navy after Ceres?  Maybe I missed something while Pa was breaking off.  I wouldn’t put it past Marco to kill him, but that’s mostly because I wouldn’t put much of anything past Marco.   

3. Pa's got a temporary truce of sorts with the OPA. Do you think accepting her supplies is the moral thing to do, or is it condoning piracy? And who do you think fired on Pa when she was with the Rocinante?

I think they had to accept her supplies.  They’ve already been stolen, and there are people who need them.  I can’t think of any other solution that would have been more moral.  When this is all over, I expect Pa and her ships will have to answer for their piracy, but using the spoils to help people will count in their favor.  As for who fired, I expect Marco left some loyalists behind on Ceres as spies.  I would guess it was one of them, trying to prevent Pa from making a deal with Fred Johnson’s OPA.

4. Filip appears to be having some unusual feelings. Do you think he's any closer this week to edging towards redemption?

I guess?  He couldn’t have been much farther than he was before.  I’m going to be seriously upset with his character arc, though, if he turns on Marco for not being as competent as he believed.  Given everything he’s done, he needs to have a moral turning point if he’s going to have any chance of forgiveness from anyone.

5. Prax's home is unofficially being occupied by the Free Navy, and he went and sent potentially lifesaving information to Earth. Do you think this is going to come back to hurt him?

Oh, probably.  Things seem to be a fair bit tenser on Ganymede than he’s noticing.  I especially enjoyed his clueless conversation about “resistance” with his kid. His answer was a nice explanation, but I can see why she was confused!  I get the feeling he’s going to be forced to be more involved than he has been so far.  I just hope his family doesn’t get hurt.