Caliban’s War (The Expanse)
James S. A. Corey
I was a big fan of 2011’s Leviathan Wakes from duo known collectively as James S. A. Corey and was extraordinarily excited to get started with the sequel Caliban’s War. Picking up not too long after the events of Leviathan Wakes, in Caliban’s War the alien protomolecule has taken up residence on Venus and watching from a distance humanity watches with fear in trepidation as the incomprehensible lifeform seemingly bides its time building something. The fragile peace of the solar system is shattered as fighting between Earth and Martian forces seemingly breaks out on the moon Ganymede prompted by the violent revelation that the protomolecule is not as contained on Venus as everyone had thought. Fearing the worst Jim Holden and his crew aboard the Rocinante fly off towards Ganymede to investigate.
Caliban’s War features the return of Jim Holden and his crew while also offering readers new perspectives from several characters. The first is Gunnery Seargant Bobbie Draper of the Martian Marines. Draper, who was present when the protomolecule reappeared, gets swept by the political fallout of events on Ganymede and must deal simultaneously with the traumatic events that saw the loss of her fellow soldiers and the slimy intelligence types she is forced to deal with as the Martain and Terran governments race to prevent an all-out war. The author’s do a great job of making Bobbie and engaging and believable character, injecting here with equal parts strength and vulnerability. They portray a women good at her job but also one hindered by post-traumatic stress. She really starts to come into her own when her path crosses that of Earth politician Chrisjen Avasarala.
Avasarala is prehaps my favorite new addition to this series. A no-nonsense tough talking politician from earth she really shines in the book and I suspect that the authors had a lot of fun writing her chapters. Within minutes of meeting her readers a treated to this wonderful exchange:
“They’re all fucking men”
“Excuse me?” Soren said.
“The generals. They’re all fucking men.”
“I thought Souther was the only–”
“I don’t mean that they fuck men. I mean that they’re all men, fuckers.”
Avasarala’s comicly genius salty language and willingness to talk frankly with those she trusts constant elicit smiles throughout her chapters. Passages like the above are the norm and later we get brilliant lines, like the following “The binder for what we do if something comes up from Venus? It’s three pages long and begins with Step One: Find God.” Genius. The authors balance out Avasarala’s workplace attitude with her interactions with her husband and grandchildren and seeing her with her family really helps the reader respond to her as more a real person.
I was less enamored with the introduction of Prax, whose search for his missing daughter in the chaos of Ganymede becomes a driving force in discovering just who is responsible for the events that occur their early in the novel. The quest for Prax’s missing daughter seems intended to tug on the reader’s heartstrings a bit, a way to humanize the drama a bit and provide a counterpoint to the big political drama happening elsewhere in the story. However, I found Prax’s helpless desperation grating and often found myself anxious to return to one of the novel’s other POVs. It’s an important aspect of the novel but one I felt that was as well developed as the political struggles seen in Avasarala and Bobbie’s chapters, nor did it serve to illuminate a character’s personality as Miller’s obsession did in Leviathan Wakes.
That being said Prax’s dilemma and particularly Captain Holden’s reaction to it seems to be designed to draw a more direct parallel to Miller’s drive in the previous novel. Holden, now working for the Outer Planets Alliance, is seemingly haunted by Miller’s ghost and his drive and determination seems to be more in line with the deceased detective than the more level headed Holden we know from the pasy. The authors show a character deeply conflicted with himself. Holden’s own tendency to champion a cause with little to no thought, combine with his internalization of Miller’s willingness for confrontation and violence set the Captain on a darker path. What reader’s get here is a fascinating look on one man’s path through grief.
Where Leviathan Wakes was sort of a sci-fi noir novel Caliban’s War is a character driven political thriller. The science fiction elements of Caliban’s War never take the foreground, this isn’t a novel about science, but rather serve to inform the background and create a more realistic and fascinating backdrop for the action. Moreso than Leviathan Wakes I think that Caliban’s War showcases the authors’ ability to inject humor in the story. Despite being a serious story the authors manage to inject moments of levity throughout the course of the novel that manage to keep the tone rather light without ever distracting from the gravity of the plot. Caliban’s War is one of my top reads of 2012 and I can’t wait for the release of Abaddon’s Gate.