Books Read In January

I’m going to keep much better track of my reading this year. One way to do that is to keep and post a list of what I read each month. I have a super secret goal of reading five books a month, which seems so simple, but there are times when I don’t. This isn’t for lack of things to read. My TBR pile is always generous:

January has been a largely science fictional month. There should be more mysteries in February, starting with my current books being read: City of Endless Night by Preston and Child and The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.

Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie

The first novel in the “Imperial Radch” series read so much like a suspense thriller with the heroine bent on revenge. I was so surprised at the combination of futuristic society, world building and thriller novel. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Persepolis Rising James S. A. Corey

The seventh novel of nine (oh no…don’t end!!!!!) in the Expanse series, Persepolis Rising follows the takeover of the Ring Gates by former Martian insurgent Duarte. He’s created an Empire on Laconia, one of the gate worlds. Using alien technologies and military strategies he works to extend his empire to every world and system.

The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner

I’ve been curious about this children’s mystery series for a long time. I have the first 12 novels on Kindle, but just read the first. It isn’t what I expected at all. More a tale of children surviving on their own in the 1920s than a mystery story, it follows four orphaned children who want to stay together rather than be put in an orphans home.

They find an abandoned boxcar which they furnish from a local dump. They manage to forage for some food, but the oldest gets small jobs in town to buy them what they need otherwise. Spoiler alert, they have a rich grandfather they’re afraid to be found by, who ends up not only taking them in, but has their boxcar moved onto his property so they can have further adventures based in it.

The Chessmen of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs
I must track down all the novels in the series. This was the fifth adventure of Barsoom. It features John Carter’s daughter Tara. She’s tough, strong, and independent. Flying in a terrible storm she lands in a tree near the city of Manator. It is inhabited by awful creatures who are spiderlike “heads” and who pop on and off of host bodies which are mindless (not surprising) slaves of the Kaldanes. She manages to survive by wit and bravery.

The Gods of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs

When Martians reach the end of their thousand year life cycles, or wish to die, they take a pilgrimage to the southern pole of Barsoom along a holy river and are received by the goddess Issus. So they think! Instead they are attacked by vicious plantmen or white apes, enslaved by a race called Therns, or by the goddess herself. Returning to Barsoom after an unwanted visit to Earth, John Carter falls in among these terrible enemies and eventually exposes the truth of the place to all Barsoom.

The Warlord of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter pursues the remnants of Thern society to a city in the far north of Barsoom. With help from a local lord, he enters the city of Kadabra disguised as a yellow Martian to find the kidnapped Deja Thoris.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs

Thuvia, a brave woman who aided John Carter with her beast taming abilities in Warlord of Mars, is taken prisoner and John’s son Carthoris is blamed. Seeking to find Dejah, Carthoris follows her to Lothar, a city where men can control thought to such an extent that they can create an army of warriors who don’t exist but who are deadly to enemies.

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Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey

babylons-ashes

Once again a world in which almost everyone lives in space is brought successfully to life.

The format of the books which switches constantly between characters can be a problem when you just want to see what happens next to a set of characters, but cliff-hanger-like, you have to wait a few chapters for that story to continue. Those shifting views make it possible to create a believable society in the stars. You know how it all fits together and what lives are like in a way that wouldn’t be as effective with a single narrator point of view.

For someone like myself who has been reading and dreaming about societies with space travel for a lifetime, this is spectacular. It is not only a living breathing society, but the people are so varied and so well written that I’m able to root for strange potentially deadly characters like Clarissa Mao. I know Avasarala so well now, that I laugh out loud in all her chapters. And somewhere towards the end of the story I had tears in my eyes, and that isn’t something that I’d ever expect to see from a hard science fiction novel.

If you read my previous post about Babylon’s Ashes as I was reading it, I was wrong in how things would play out, but also right in a way. Onward, Rocinante!

rocinante-pic

Currently Reading: Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey

babylons-ashes

The most recent novel in the Expanse universe is Babylon’s Ashes. Released in December 2016, I’m nearly to the halfway point. As usual, many stories are told from a wide variety of viewpoints, so you always see what is happening in all sectors of the solar system, with all of the different players.

The self proclaimed Free Navy led by Marco Inaros has all but destroyed Earth and has taken over the Medina gate to the new worlds, capturing any colony ships that try to go through and commandeering their cargos and resources. They’ve gutted Ceres Station and are destroying ships throughout the system whose owners seem to oppose them.

The tenuous society which existed before with Earth and Mars well situated and the Belt stations barely surviving is gone, but it’s hard to see what will replace it since the supplies and resources for everyone are now dwindling quickly, with no way to even start producing enough to save those who remain. In many ways the war has just begun.

As I say, I’m not finished, but I could see it ending up with a small group who survives making their way through the gates and abandoning our system altogether. That would strand all of humanity on the thousand new worlds full of alien technologies which could activate and destroy the last of them at any time.

Let’s hope things don’t get that bleak, and that our hero James Holden can somehow get everyone to see they’re all one people who need to work together to survive.

Season Two of the Expanse starts on the Syfy channel February 1st. http://www.syfy.com/theexpanse

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Holden, with Miller’s ghostly direction managed to open the Ring Gate in Abbaddon’s Gate. Now thousands of worlds are within reach. The overcrowded solar system has an escape valve, and people can spread out among the stars, with plenty of air and water for all.

The nearest planet to the gates has been named Ilus by a colony of refugees from Ganymede. They commandeered their rescue ship and pointed it through the gates when there seemed no place else for them to go. Fiercely independent, determined to build a new life for themselves, they’ve been mining the planet which is rich in lithium and the ruins of a dead alien civilization.

mining colony

The infighting that always existed between Earth, Mars and the Belt still goes on. Earth’s UN is sending their own colony of scientists to this same planet to study it and claim it for their own. They call the planet New Terra. They don’t recognize the current colonists nor, thanks to some corporate string pulling at home, do they plan to let the colonists have mining rights.

As a shuttle carrying the new Governor and a first group of scientists land, the landing pad explodes, killing many on board, including the new governor. The Edward Israel, still in orbit, goes into high alert and sends a signal back to Earth that colonial terrorists have killed the first team sent to the planet.

Another ship, the Barbapiccola waits in orbit for the first shipments of lithium.

The trip from Ilus to home takes a year and a half, though communications take mere hours. The UN and OPA want James Holden to go to Ilus and try to reach a diplomatic conclusion. Miller’s ghostly self wants to go through the gate in the very worst way. Although Holden fears what Miller might do next, or cause to happen, he likes the idea of being a peacemaker, so they go.

While the Rocinante makes the journey, the head of Edward Israel’s security sends more scientists down to the planet and goes down himself to make sure their mission isn’t hampered and no one is killed. He runs a tight colony and never hides his suspicion of the “squatters” as the colonists are known to the scientists.

Just as the Rocinante arrives, a fight breaks out and security teams from the Edward Israel are killed. Murtry declares martial law. And planet itself seems to be waking up.

Holden’s efforts are wasted on the three warring groups, except for a scientist who develops an awkward crush on Holden.

As the planet wakes, it seems bent on destroying those on the surface. As they flee into space and the ships in orbit, the planet’s defenses begin to pull all the ships down towards the surface.

Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

In the second novel of The Expanse series, the action shifts from the Asteroid Belt to a colony on Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons. Ganymede is a planet of domes growing food that is transported to all sectors of the solar system. Botanical experiments and growing techniques have made it a rich source of sustenance for the increasingly crowded expanse of planets and space. It has been untouched by the politics and rivalries growing every day throughout the system.

Expanse Asteroid Belt

Expanse Jupiters Moons

Since the revelations of scientific mass murder on Eros by Julie Mao’s father and his Protogen company in Leviathan Wakes, the solar system now has three seats of political power. The Outer Planets Alliance led by Fred Johnson has gained some measure of legitimacy and Holden and crew have been working for him. Mars, continuing to work on terraforming their planet, spreads its naval fleet defensively into the Belt and out towards Jupiter and Saturn. Earth uses its United Nations forces to try to keep control everywhere. Directed by the amazing and plain spoken Chrisjen Avasarala, Earth’s still vast resources often seem to give them the upper hand.

On pastoral Ganymede, children with certain genetic defects are suddenly disappearing. Rapidly following this is an attack on UN and Martian ground forces by a deadly being that is able to jam their communications and swiftly kill the marines of both factions. Panic and paranoia reign. Everyone is convinced that the “protomolecule” now transforming the planet Venus has sent monstrosities to attack the rich food source that is Ganymede. Fear that the population of Ganymede will meet the same fate as the unfortunate souls on Eros triggers an emergency evacuation of the planet.

Expanse Greenhouse

Into this charged atmosphere go the crew of the Rocinante, ostensibly to help a scientist find his kidnapped child (which will be a huge publicity boost for the warring factions showing how humanely they can work together), more to the point, having had close proximity to the effects of the protomolecule, they can determine if it has been planted on Ganymede and how quickly it’s moving among the desperately escaping population.

The shifting viewpoints in Caliban’s War give us a closer look at Earth and how it functions in the Expanse, and the narrative of Praxidike Meng, father of the kidnapped child Mei, shows what everyday life could be like in a crowded and ever expanding space society. Holden’s crew has become a tight group who bring to any situation their combined wisdom, bravery and knowledge of the worlds that make up the Expanse.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

James S. A. Corey is the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. They’ve published five novels in the Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes is the first.

As I’ve written here before, I heard lots of good things about the then upcoming Syfy Series “The Expanse”. After watching the first episode I wasn’t sure I liked it and would watch anymore. Yet I came back week after week, and am now enthralled.

As soon as the series ended I picked up Leviathan Wakes, loved it, and got the rest of the books. A sixth book, Babylon’s Ashes was supposed to come out in late August, then October, and now in December. Agh, how can they do that to the poor eager reader?

Leviathan Wakes switches viewpoints and stories all through the novel. Each book in the series is written this way, and I’m happiest when the story focuses on the crew of the Rocinante, a semi-stolen Martian Navy Ship. The many viewpoints really serve the making of the world of The Expanse well, though. You get a much broader look at an incredibly vibrant solar system that supports very different lifestyles and cultures. I can’t think of any space oriented stories I’ve ever read where everything fits together and makes sense, and you can imagine day to day life in a universe such as this.

Julie Mao

The daughter of a wealthy man she has deserted the life he offers his family and she has joined an organization in “The Belt” bent on righting wrongs and building an Outer Planets Alliance. When we meet her she’s the only one left alive on her small ship The Scopuli, the rest of the crew having been murdered by a boarding party they couldn’t fight off.

The Canterbury

The Canterbury is an ice hauler which brings ice from the rings of Saturn to Ceres Station and other places in the Asteroid Belt, to be used as water for the citizens of The Belt.

Canterbury Expanse

On their way home to Ceres Station, they respond to a distress call in a rather dead area of space. Sending a small crew to investigate the Scopuli, they find the craft that signaled them to be deserted. As they determine the distress signal was not sent by the ship itself, but was jury-rigged, they begin to back out of the troubling, something-went-very-wrong-here ship. Just then The Canterbury warns them to get back to the ship, they’re under attack by fast moving, unidentifiable craft. Before they can get clear of the Scopuli, The Canturbury is blown from space, completely destroyed, all hands lost. Somehow, they get behind an asteroid and avoid the deadly crafts. James Holden, commander of the little ship, sends out a message telling of the Canterbury’s end and imploring everyone to Remember The Canterbury.

Ceres Station/Detective Miller

Ceres Station is a crowded, half starved station with barely enough air and water to sustain its citizens.
Expanse Ceres Station 2

They remain fiercely independent, many of them hating Earth and Mars, planets rich in resources with enough air and water for everyone. Lifetimes in the low gravity have altered the Belters physically, they’re taller and their heads seem elongated. A special language is used by The Belters that outsiders can’t generally understand. Ceres station is in a constant state of unrest as enforced shortages of air and water make life a misery. It is here that OPA (The Outer Planets Alliance) takes a deep foothold, with many convinced independence would give them a better life.

Run down, beat up, noir-ish detective Miller is a Belter who has spent his life on the station. He was once very good at his job, but now he drinks too much, sleeps too much, and cares about nothing much.

Expanse Miller

He’s given a side job of finding out what happened to heiress Julie Mao, a spoiled little rich girl turned rebel. He had stayed clear of OPA agents on the station, but as he investigates Julie’s disappearance and involvement with OPA, he finds a deeper puzzle that she is just a piece of. When Holden’s message about the abandoned Scopuli and the destruction of the Canterbury, a harmless ice hauler, come to light, he finds he can’t stop digging to find out what happened, no matter who threatens him and warns him off.

The Crew of The Rocinante

Holden’s message inflames the Belt and a Martian ship called The Donnager tracks down the Knight, the little ship that escaped destruction. It seems Mars is being blamed in some quarters for the destruction of the Canterbury, and tensions are rising. The former Canterbury crew don’t trust each other or particularly like each other, but when they’re taken prisoner in the Martian ship they begin to think differently. Before the crew can settle in, the Donnager is attacked by the same ships that took out the Canterbury. The captain and crew are certain they can’t be touched by these ships. They fare not much better than the Canterbury. The mysterious fleet takes the Donnager on and is soon boarding the ship. James Holden, Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton, and Alex Kamal are led to a docking bay by one of the officers, where they take control of a ship called The Tachi . They’re expected to spread the word about the fate of the Donnager and prove Mars was not involved in the destruction of the Canterbury. Barely escaping, their guide dies upon takeoff but Alex, a former Martian Navy pilot gets the rest of them away safely.

Making another profoundly impossible escape, they rename the ship the Rocinante after Don Quixote’s amiable and faithful horse.

Don Quixote and Rocinante

With nowhere safe to go, the Rocinante crew accepts an invitation from Fred Johnson, head of OPA, still known to some as The Butcher of Anderson Station.

Leviathan Wakes tells a tale of simmering interplanetary war, scientific experimentation with alien technologies using humans as test subjects, and the smaller, more personal story of Miller working parallel to the crew of the Rocinante to track down Julie Mao, the lost heiress, who can end of humanity.