Monday, April 17, 2017

Game Of Thrones In Space

Hola Readers, how are you all doing today?  I got a couple fabulous days off that were much needed and were used to my literary advantage...but more on that later.  One of the things I got finished was Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey, the second book in the Expanse series.  I loved the first one and was leery and excited to read the second one as more then once a series has disappointed in it's follow up.  Lucky for me I loved this book as much as the first one.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
At the end of the last book we left the crew of the Rocinante putting themselves back together after helping Detective Miller plunge the protomolecule ridden space station Eros into Venus.  If this doesn't make any sense...go read the book lol.  Anyways Holden and his crew are running around doing errands for Fred Johnson, the de facto leader of the OPA when they stumble across the aftermath of Ganymede.  Ganymede is a moon that has become the main food growing space for the Belt and it was attacked by an unknown monster like entity.  The attack wiped out all of the Earth and Mars marines stationed on the base except for one, our girl Bobbie.  The attack led to the very tense Earth and Mars factions shooting at each other and chaos reigns.  The ensuing violence pretty much decimates that Ganymede station and we meet Prax, a botanist who lives with his young daughter on the base.  Prax discovers his daughter is missing and kind of goes on a bit of a bender in his search for her.  Meanwhile back on Earth Chrisjen Avasarala, the under-secretary representing Earth in the UN is desperately trying to stay in the loop and maintain what peace she can between Earth, Mars and the OPA.  This is further complicated by people both above and below her pushing their own agendas.  Avasarala is particularly interested in keeping an eye on Venus and the energy spikes that seem to correlate with the monster attack.  Bobbie the Martian Marine is brought to the UN as the only survivor to show the video of the monster. Avasarala feels that there is more going on then meets the eye and hires Bobbie to work with her to find out what it is.  Back on Ganymede Holden and crew run into Prax and agree to help him find his daughter.  Their search leads to a hidden lab where Holden...who has had a much closer encounter with the protomolecule then anybody ever needs, realizes what it is they are seeing.  He get's everybody back to the ship and the heck out of dodge.  They fly back to Fred Johnson, where after a tiff, Holden and crew are once again free to take on any contract they want.  They set up a fund to find Mei, Prax's daughter and off they go.  Avasarala after some stuff realizes that one of the Generals is behind the whole "protomolecule as a weapon" thing and that he is trying to instigate a war.  She continues to play the political game, ending up with Bobbie out in space on a slow ship to Ganymede.  She contacts Holden and makes him an offer he can't refuse.  After they all get together on the Rocinante, Holden and his crew (Naomi, Alex and Amos...who are now equal owners of the ship and its profits), Avasarala, Bobbie and Prax pool their information and come to a horrifying realization.  Prax's daughter, along with many other children who have also gone missing, all had a very specific immuno disorder.  This disorder made it possible for them to infect the children with the protomolecule in an attempt to make a controllable weapon.  The problem with this is that they were never really controllable and one got loose and caused all the events from Ganymede and forward to occur.  We also get more info on Jules Mao...the father of Julie Mao from the last book.  We discover that his wealth and company are a huge part of what has made this atrocity possible.  Of course the biggest concern is if one of these monsters makes it anywhere where there is human in habitation...cause you turns everybody into vomit zombies (still one of my favorite phrases).  Our people discover that lab base and fly there post haste.  After some political manuvering and a bit of threatening the crew make it.  They split up to accomplish various tasks and finally make it back to the Rocinante alive and with Mei and some of the other children.  Everybody goes to Luna to celebrate and reconnect with what family they have left.  Unfortunately the celebration is cut short when the news comes that Venus has spun off a comet size blast of protomolecule headed who knows where...and thus ends this second book.  Obviously there is a ton more as usual to this complex yet highly readable book, but as usual this is about the gist of it.
World Building - The series continues to build upon the last book.  This time however we get to visit some new places, namely Earth, Ganymede and plenty of various ships.  All of the careful world building and science of the last book were carried on in this book, making it a world that was easy to jump right back into.  I especially appreciate the little daily details that the authors pop in to remind us of the various environments our characters find themselves in, especially the different gravity types.  I really felt like I was hopping right back into a complete world.  Great job guys.

Story - I felt that this story really built on the completeness and simplicity (yet in a complete contradiction the complexness) of the first book.  I felt like the first story set us up to read through this story with complete understanding.  This story, with it's personal bits with Prax and his daughter, the larger political landscape and the even larger ancient alien threat to humanity all tied together in a whole that left me feeling satisfied while still wanting to hurry up and read the next story.  This is the kind of serial reading I like, where the story is not repetitive with the same formula over and over.  They are original stories that when all read together make an even longer overall story...very saga like.

Character -  We add a couple of new characters in this installment and I love each and every one of them.  In some ways, each character is a bit of an extreme version of a certain personality...on the other hand, each character also has various layers and motivations, making the more outlandish components of their persona's make sense.  I love the naturalness of the characters interactions with each other and how each one seemed authentic and genuine.  I also appreciated how the characters we already knew developed in a believable way considering the insane events of the first book.  Awesome characters.

Editing - The editing of this series is becoming on of my favorite aspects of these books.  These complex ideas, twisted politics, various characters and multiple places could very quickly become confusing, but between the authors and editors it is insanely readable.  Part of the ease of reading is that they use a trick that helps the Game of Thrones Series (hence the title...along with it is pretty much a similar feel...just in space...)which is each chapter belongs to a specific character and is labeled as such.  This takes the big crazy and funnels it through a single viewpoint...but more on that later.

Viewpoints - The first book in this series worked because we saw all the complexity funneled through two very distinct and two very different view points.  This book builds on what we learned in the first book and kicks it up a notch with FOUR viewpoints.  I like the characters they choose as they come from different places (Mars, Earth, Belt and Holden representing a kind of every man).  They are different personalities, different professions, different socio-economic classes...essentially every issue is shown to us from a sampling of who might be affected.  This expanded version of what we started with further enriches the world and story, yet still makes me feel like the book is readable without being overly bogged down.  I also feel like I am getting a mostly diverse view of events, not all one sided, no one planet or area is right, no one view is entirely's pretty open ended without being ambiguous...if that makes sense.

Micro to Macro - When a series is set in such an epic setting, I like it when they can focus on multiple layers, and this book does it beautifully.  I mentioned it before, but I like how we have the personal story of Prax and his daughter Mei, it puts an individual face on the impact of these vast and broad happenings.  I think even in real life we get so used to hearing these epic horror stories that we forget that individual suffer horribly because of these events.  We then expand to the politicol/soci-economic problems of Earth, Mars and the OPA.  This is a bigger issue, affecting more people and requiring a bigger and more complex solution, while still depending on the whims of individuals and their own prides and prejudices (see what I did their Austen fans?).  Then we expand into a universal concern as the protomolecule threatens EVERYBODY, doesn't matter where you were born, or where you work, or even how much money you have...this requires people to put aside individual concerns, patriotic alliances and work together in an unprecedented way to save humanity.  The various levels give the reader both somebody to root for and an epic horror to root against.

Names - Something I have noticed and loved as a bibliophile is the abundance of literary and historical references scattered through out the books.  In this book even the title has a Shakespearean origin.  Caliban is the twisted son of a witch who is a slave to the main character Prospero of the Tempest, until he throws off his shackles to disastrous effect.  This is paralleled in our book by the protomolecule/human hybrid monsters breaking the human constraints.  The names of the ships are especially fun to look up.  The Rocinante is named after the horse in Don Quixote.  The Barbapiccola is named after a philosopher and poet.  The Somnambulist is a pretty awesome word for sleepwalking and the Guanshiyin is a Hindu Goddess.  Pretty much anything with a name has some sort of cool story attached to it...jut another layer of awesome.

Overall - I am so excited that this second installment lived up to my love of the first book.  This is not always the case and I now have super high hopes for the next book.  I have been putting these books on my phone 'cause they are super easy to read a couple of pages inbetween calls and dealing with the monsters so they have been my go to books lately.  I give this book 8 out of 10 bulbs of coffee and am totally stoked to catch up on the tv show AND read the next book.  I recommend it to anybody who wants a solid scifi story, misses game of thrones and doesn't mind vomit zombies instead of white walkers or who read the first book and loved it.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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