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!

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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.

Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

In the third novel of the Expanse series, the bizarre activities of the protomolecule on Venus come to fruition: from within the clouds of the planet a ring was launched toward Uranus, assembling itself upon arrival. Nothing has emerged from the Ring. There have been no signs of activity or life. Science ships from Earth and Mars hover near it, doing nothing but observing.

Expanse Ring

Neo, a young man with no ambition other than impressing his friends, puts together a ship which will slingshot him right through the Ring. Just as he nears the ring he’s hailed by a Martian ship who says they’ll fire on him if he doesn’t stop. Too close and too sure of himself, he sails through the Ring at high speed and is immediately crushed within his little ship.

Panic arises within the fleets. The little ship went in but didn’t come out the other side. There was some kind of reaction from the ring, they just don’t know what it means.

The biggest effect is on Holden and his crew. Just as they’re happily celebrating their successes and a bright future aboard the Rocinante, bad things begin to happen. Mars orders the Rocinante locked down at Ceres Station. They want the ship back. A client pulls out of their contract suddenly.

Roci crew0.1

Miller appears to Holden when no one else is around. The fact that Miller is dead is annoying enough. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Holden didn’t like him during the short time he knew him in life. Something about the disturbance at the Ring has Miller appearing more frequently and urgently, trying to get Holden to go to the Ring. Miller is cryptic and disjointed, he uses stories from his detective days to represent what he’s trying to convey. Holden understands nothing.

A documentary crew wants to hire the Rocinante to fly to the Ring, suddenly the place everyone seems to be headed. They also want one on one interviews with the crew that survived Eros Station. Faced with the possible loss of the Rocinante, the crew agrees and the long journey out begins.

Expanse Roci 2

A crew sets out from the Outer Planet Alliance. The Behemoth is a mix of Belters with a very few Earthers mixed in. It is seen as important that a ship representing the Outer Planets Alliance be commanded by Belters. Tensions are high.

On the United Nations Navy vessel Thomas Prince, Clarissa Mao, the technologically augmented daughter of Jules-Pierre Mao waits for Holden to near the Ring. She has been transformed into a highly efficient killing machine and will stop at nothing to bring him down, ruin his name, and end his life.

Expanse C M

Representing Earth, a carefully selected group travels towards the Ring as witnesses and consultants. They’re represented by Anna, a pastor who hopes to help citizens of the solar system see how the presence of the Ring and what might lay beyond fits with what is known of God.

As all the ships converge on the Ring, a ship explodes, followed by an announcement that comes directly from the Rocinante and James Holden that he is responsible and claiming the Ring for OPA. In the chaos that follows, the Rocinante sends out a message that their signal has been hijacked and they did not set the bomb nor are they claiming the Ring.

expanse spaceship explosion

In desperation, the Rocinante goes through the Ring. In short order, small tactical Martian Marine ships give chase, then all of the ships which journeyed to the Ring enter. The Ring has defenses that include keeping ships and probes and objects moving at certain slow rates of speed. It also reacts to violence in surprising ways. With each ship now full of panicked and sometimes mutinous individuals, there seems to be little hope any will make it out alive.

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.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

In what I’m hoping is the first in a new series (a sequel called Black Light Express is rumored), Philip Reeve brings to life nearly a thousand worlds which can be traveled to instantaneously by means of sentient locomotives.

Will Kirkby’s The Damask Rose of the Dogstar Line

Will Kirkbys The Damask Rose

People like Zen Starling who love the transitions between worlds are called Railheads. They travel world to world for sometimes practical reasons, such as Zen and his thievery, sometimes just to see the sights as the worlds blink in and out along the railway. Long ago mysterious beings called Guardians opened The Great Network to beings all along its routes. The trains themselves have personalities and sometimes vague loyalties to those who arrange commerce along the rail lines.

Zen Starling is a simple thief, stealing a piece of jewelry from the crowded market stalls of Ambersai Station. He normally wouldn’t be so bold but the opportunity was there, and it was done. Soon he’s chased by drones and a red haired girl who follow him along the rail lines all the way home to the bitter, crumbling town of Cleave.

Thus begins an adventure he wouldn’t have guessed possible. He’s offered the ultimate opportunity to steal something that may not even have value. Chased by a relentless detective, finding friendship with creatures not recognized as being alive, and solving the mysteries of his own past as he races through the universe make this a spectacular tale of the sort you wish wouldn’t end.

railhead cover

A Guardian Interview with Philip Reeve on the writing of Railhead

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/oct/02/philip-reeve-railhead-interview

Philip Reeve’s Website:

http://www.philip-reeve.com/

Philip Reeve on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/philipreeve1

Merlyn’s “What I’m Reading”

Sometimes when you’re between books, you start a few and read them as the mood strikes. Usually, you reach a point in one or more where you have to read on to the end of the story or you won’t get any sleep. Here’s my current pile.

Jim Butcher’s Storm Front I actually started this in November and haven’t gotten far. I want to like it but I’m not sure I care for Harry Dresden, the main character. He seems a bit amoral to me, and I like a solid hero. They can be flawed, but I need to see that they are going to end up doing the right thing.

storm front cover

The Shadow Thieves Anne Ursu I bought this quite awhile ago, based on reviews, I’m sure. I’m only a few chapters in, but it has potential. I take it from the jacket Charlotte Mielswetzski, an unlikely heroine, will be rising from her friendless misery to be something special. Very lightly told. Things are about to happen. This is my easy chair/napping book so it will take awhile unless things happen quickly in the plot, then it will be done in a few hours. It is #1 in the Cronus Chronicles with a front of the book quote “What if Greek Myths were real?”

Shadow Thieves

I found a couple of lists of best, “must read” science fiction and fantasy novels, and will post those separately. I knew and loved many of the books on the lists, but there were so many I disagreed with or had, but hadn’t read yet, that I started combing my own shelves for likely titles. I pulled out a pile to read.

At the top of the list was Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, which I own but haven’t read. I started it , and it is great sf so far, but I was struck by how similar the theme and plot (at least as I’m beginning) is to James Gunn’s recent book Transcendental. Both are framed as a set of pilgrims traveling to a particular shrine/holy location and both use the format of The Canterbury Tales to introduce the pilgrims.

Hyperion

I recently watched the Syfy series The Expanse. I hated the first episode, but decided to watch another to see if I liked it. Good thing, because the second episode and all the others were great stories, fascinating characters, and feature a really well imagined time when there is a colonized Mars, Luna and an entire civilization of “belters” working the fringes of the solar system for resources.

I particularly loved all of the sequences featuring the remains of the crew of The Canterbury.
Rocinante crew

This small tight knit group just had one incredible escape after another. I initially disliked the earth-centric and Ceres Station (in The Belt) sequences, not liking the gritty, hopeless life of the residents, and the detective who was trying to figure out how a series of disasters were connected bugged me to death. I hate to say, I think it was his hairdo that just set me on edge. So silly.

Expanse Miller

After seeing all the episodes, I wanted MORE. How fortuitous that the Expanse is based on Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. I snared a copy and the book is great, and from the first sentence. So many extra details that give character and world background are in the book, that I actually found Miller to be likeable immediately. He didn’t have a creepy stalker vibe going regarding his search for missing heiress Julie Mao at all.

Leviathan Wakes

The story of the Canterbury and subsequent adventures of the tiny Rocinante crew were so satisfying. As I’m reading, I can see the faces of the tv series folks in my mind, and I can picture the ships and the grittiness of life in space.

While I wait the torturous whole year before the Expanse returns to Syfy, I can find out what happens to our merry crew and the world they inhabit in the sequels: Caliban’s War, Abbadon’s Gate, Cibola Burn, and Nemesis Games.