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

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.

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.

This Week in Books and Reading

I finished Two Graves by Lincoln and Child. I can’t say there was a happy ending, but events took one astonishing turn after another. Honestly, if you like plot twists galore, you should read this series. I wonder where I’ll get my adventure/suspense/mystery fix after I finish these books. I think I saw someone recommend James Rollin’s books as something to read if you love the Agent Pendergast novels. I follow James Rollins on Facebook, and he has a most likeable personality and intriguing looking action adventures.

two graves

Science Fiction author Gregory Benford has a thoughtful post up Journey to the Genre’s Core that seems to say that “Hard Science” science fiction is more palatable to the masses because it is more grounded in reality, rather like good non-fiction. I personally have always liked Hard Science best because it extrapolates what could be from what we know or dream now. For me, it could present a vast array of possible futures, which are exciting to think could happen given their pretty solid science foundations.

Benford: You can’t help noticing that the bestseller lists carry the names of hard SF stalwarts – Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke – and not the Sturgeons, Pohls and Bradburys of the same vintage. Question is, why?

Partly, I suspect it comes from the fact that the public likes fiction deeply grounded in the real world. It’s long been known that nonfiction top bestsellers (leaving out diet books etc.) outsell fiction top bestsellers by a typical ratio of 2:1. Similarly, the didactic fiction of Mitchener et al sells better than the best thrillers. Even in as fanciful an area as SF, these biases probably hold sway. Hard SF benefits from this basically American taste; as Charles Platt remarks in Science Fiction Review 51, “I open a nonfiction book, or a rigorously realistic novel, with the definite expectation of discovering new and interesting information,” and to his surprise, most of his friends do, too.

This takes away from the dreams and visions I’ve always enjoyed, and instead of science fiction being the “Literature of Ideas”, it makes it seem like a cheap overlay on some non-fiction speculation.

wonder stories

Boar Island

A new Anna Pigeon novel will be out on May 17th for Nevada Barr’s vast readership.

From the wonderful Strand Magazine, a recommended list of Mystery Books to Read in January.

Strand Magazine

The Edgar Award nominees for best mysteries published last year are out. Awards are given out in late April this year so you have plenty of time to read the nominees and discover some new favorite authors.

Edgar Award