Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey

Bugg

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Pretty much sums up how I felt about it, too. I agree with what you say about the pacing and yet I found it quite a struggle to read, and I think that's because I didn't care about the characters at all. I also found - and forgive me if I'm remembering this incorrectly (I've managed to blot most of the book from my memory) - the whole infection thing tedious, just an excuse to do zombies-of-sorts in space. I finished it and thought I'd enjoyed it, but I've had absolutely no inclination to read the next book.

Also, I tried watching the tv series. Made it through two episodes and haven't watched any further. I didn't think it was particularly bad, but there was just so much else else I'd rather watch (which, similarly, also applies to how I feel about the books). And the porkpie hat looks even sillier in action than it seemed in my imagination.
 

Vertigo

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I was sort of prepared to live with the zombies as it was only a very small part and the final result was, I thought, actually a bit more satisfying though inconsistent; each infection from the original crew to Julie to the population of Eros behaved in very different ways. So for example why was Julie the only one to still be relatively complete and recognisable whilst everyone else's body parts seem to have gone off wandering about separately and why is Julie seemingly the only one left with any volition of her own and why didn't she turn into a zombie? This was given some vague possible explanation along the lines of the protomolecule improvising differently under different circumstances, however it was one example of the many small pot holes I kept stumbling on. Another was how Holden, himself ex-space navy, has to keep being filled in on standard space navy practices by both Amos and Alex (such as self destruct and turning off transponders). There were many others...
 
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Vince W

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I only read up until the space zombies and that was it for me and it was a massive struggle to reach that far. If I were to bother writing a review it would have been far more vitriolic than yours @Vertigo. ;)
 

Vertigo

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I did feel it had almost been written with a TV/film franchise in their sights. You cold almost see them going through a mass appeal checklist:
Burnt out but honourable cop - check
Manly righteous hero - check
Cute but independent love interest - check
Zombies - check
Space battles - check

and so on...
 

Vince W

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I did feel it had almost been written with a TV/film franchise in their sights. You cold almost see them going through a mass appeal checklist:
Burnt out but honourable cop - check
Manly righteous hero - check
Cute but independent love interest - check
Zombies - check
Space battles - check

and so on...
Very true. I also felt it was written while watching TV. I can hear them now - 'Hey, did you see Castle/CSI(x)/Walking Dead/...? You know that part... Yeah, let's do that.'
 

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The Expanse #4: Cibola Burn

An alien artifact has opened a wormhole nexus leading to a thousand different star systems, all of them containing at least one Earth-like world. A mass exodus, the greatest diaspora in human history, is threatening to take place but one group of Belter settlers have already staked a claim to a world they call Ilus, although the corporation granted UN settlement rights prefers to call it New Terra. As the settlers and corporate representatives resort to violence, it falls to Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to mediate their dispute. This proves to be a lot easier said than done.

Cibola Burn is the fourth novel in The Expanse series by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (writing as James S.A. Corey) and the first to take place outside the Solar system. The Expanse's big success in its opening novels was that it created a relatively restrained vision of the future, with humanity forced to employ slower-than-light travel between the worlds of the Solar system. After the events of Abaddon's Gate, the way to the stars has been thrown open, but it still takes months to get anywhere. For the colonists on Ilus and later the Rocinante crew, this puts them well out of the range of immediate help when things go disastrously wrong.

Each of the Expanse novels has taken a somewhat different tone, helped by Holden being the only continuing POV character, with the rest being exclusive to each novel. Cibola Burn feels like a Western (and more Deadwood than Gunsmoke), with the unruly settlers on the frontier being reeled back in by the mining company backed up by a reluctant sherrif with Indians and smallpox on the horizon. There's lots of hard moral questions and tough challenges posed by both the situation and the environment. This shift of tone is welcome and well-played as it allows a tighter focus on real, low-tech issues and solutions like the first (and still the best) novel in the series, Leviathan Wakes. The threat of the protomolecule, its creators and its even more enigmatic enemies does reassert itself towards the end of the book, along with a space-borne problem that feels a little too reminiscent of Abaddon's Gate, but it definitely takes a back seat for the most of the book.

The focus is on three new characters: a Belter settler named Basia, who is reluctantly drawn into becoming a terrorist; a security officer called Havelock on the orbiting corporation ship and a scientist named Elvi who just wants to be left alone so she can get on with cataloguing the planet's crazy flora and fauna. These are all well-crafted characters, if not particularly original. Havelock, as the company man who suddenly realises his corporate masters are useless, is an archetype that is looking dangerously overused at this point in the series. Other characters are less well-defined, and main villain Murtry is as cliched and uninteresting as they come: a rigid, dogmatic man unable to adapt to changing circumstances unless it involves shooting things. I get the impression that Abraham and Frank wanted to create a morally murky situation with sympathetic POVs on both sides, but Murtry's outright villainy soon means that the corporate side loses all sympathy and interest.

For a novel almost 600 pages long (in hardcover!) the pages fly past briskly and there's an interesting move away from the gunfights and set piece explosions of the previous novels. There's still a zero-G battle or three, but the writers dial back the more obvious shooting in favour of evoking the occasional SF sensawunda that represents the genre at its best. The social commentary on us bringing our baggage to the stars is well-handled, if a little obvious, and events run enjoyably up to a climax that hints at bigger things to come.

Cibola Burn (****) is the best book in the series since Leviathan Wakes, restoring focus and verve to a series that felt like it was becoming predictable. It'll be interesting to see how they adapt this book to the screen in later seasons of The Expanse, however. Although the producers will likely enjoy the far smaller scale (and hence budget) of things, I can't see viewers being too interested in taking a season off from the rest of the Solar system to see Holden and his crew dealing with frontier settler problems. But as a novel, it workers very well. The book is available now in the UK and USA.
 

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The Expanse #5: Nemesis Games

Several years of constant duty has left the independent frigate Rocinante damaged and in severe need of a refit. With the ship in a repair dock for several months of work, the crew scatters back to their homes to catch up with old friends and family. With humanity moving out to explore the new worlds beyond the alien wormhole gateway, it feels like a time of peace and opportunity. This abruptly changes when the largest terrorist attack in human history kills millions and suddenly the Solar system is plunged into chaos. The crew of the Rocinante have to regroup and stop the crisis from getting even worse.

Nemesis Games is the fifth of nine planned books in The Expanse series, carrying us firmly into the second half of the story. Co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (writing as James S.A. Corey) have structured this series in a very interesting way, using only Jim Holden as their ongoing POV character and swapping other characters in and out with every passing volume. The story has also evolved in an organic way, moving from a near-future thriller rooted in realism in Leviathan Wakes to much grander stories involving aliens and gateways, as well as frontier colonialism. This approach helps keep things fresh, especially when compared to the numerous military SF series out which go on year after year, getting more stale with each passing volume.

Nemesis Games is different to the preceding books in several ways. First off, it splits the POVs between the four crewmembers of the Rocinante. Holden still present, but Alex, Amos and Naomi now all get their own storylines and perspectives. This is a very welcome and overdue move, especially for Naomi who always clearly had more background and complexity going on than Holden (who is often somewhat dense, it has to be said) was able to discern from her. Focusing on Amos, a deeply violent man who requires external stabilising forces to keep himself from snapping altogether, is also a rewarding move which furthers his character more. Alex is the most straightforward crewmember on the Rocinante and this makes him arguably the least interesting, but Abraham and Franck throw in a crowd-pleasing move by teaming him up with Bobbie Draper, the fan-favourite Martian marine from Caliban's War, for most of his mission.

The rotating chapter structure keeps things ticking along quite nicely and at first it appears that our characters are all involved in completely different events. Links soon appear between them and suddenly everything comes crashing together when the terror attacks take place. This is a game-changing moment in the series when the powers and factions we have gotten used to through four previous volumes are challenged by the arrival of a new, more dangerous force and all the existing rules are thrown out. The abruptness of the catastrophic attack is brutally effective, even if the scale of the conspiracy required to bring it about is at times unconvincing: Abraham and Franck evoke a similar feeling of shock to the events of 9/11 but on a far vaster scale involving thousands of conspirators, but that makes the likelihood of the plan succeeding without being found out rather less likely.

Once chaos has been unleashed the authors slam down the accelerator. Nemesis Games moves rapidly between Alex and Bobbie on a desperate rescue mission to Holden's politicking on Tycho Station to Amos and Clarissa Mao trying to escape from a scene of utter devastation to Naomi reluctantly trapped on the inside of the criminal conspiracy. There's a feeling of doom-laden relentlessness to the book which keeps things moving along quickly. This is also the first time in the series where the authors haven't felt the need to tie up the primary storyline before the end of the novel, as they seem to consider Nemesis Games and the forthcoming sixth volume, Babylon's Ashes, as a duology within the framework of the larger series. The novel ends with the bad guys still at large, the catastrophic aftermath of the attack still unfolding and new threats emerging beyond the wormhole gateways.

There are flaws in all of this: Naomi is captured and spends the bulk of the novel imprisoned and trying to talk her captors down from their villainy. Although the authors change things up by having Naomi's captors being her friends from childhood, it still feels a little too much like a retread of Naomi's story in the previous novel in the series, Cibola Burn. The actual moment of the terror attack also feels a little undercooked, as we move from the villain declaiming that something huge is about to happen to seeing a news report on the aftermath. But the impact on the characters is immense and the way it restructures the story going forwards is quite well-handled. In addition, some readers may be disappointed that there is little to no expansion given for the protomolecule storyline and the mystery of what happened to its creators, but arguably after three books focusing on that to the possible detriment of the human story, that's not too much of a problem.

Nemesis Games (****½) finally fulfils the promise laid down by Leviathan Wakes five years ago and is the best volume in The Expanse to date. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. The next book in the series, Babylon's Ashes, will be published on 2 November 2016.
 
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Yes, I know, this thread is a bit old, but I'm posting my comments about the review here. Also I'm quite enjoying Caliban's War.

The whole “Ceres is filled with criminal scum” thing got to me a bit too, however.
OK. I apologize, because I know this is a significant necropost, at least with regard to the singular message to which I'm replying, but I feel compelled to speak up about the gripes about the seedy nature of the Belt in The Expanse novels (I assume the gripe extends also to the show).

I look at the Belt as any other frontier. Whether the Canadian wilderness in pre-Revolution North America or the the American West during the Victorian Era, or any other example you care to cite. Yes, I know that technology is much more advanced in The Expanse, and one could argue that renders less relevant the isolating issues, perhaps, of Pony Express and other slow methods of correspondence. But the telegraph and steam trains did not automatically "civilize" the Wild West, so why should more immediate kinds of communication and transportation civilize the Belt?

So long as the colonial powers (in this case Earth and Mars) are getting what they want from their colony / economic interest (in this case the Belt) what incentive is there to maintain, at any outpost, anything above the threshold of law and order that permits colonial needs to be met?

Additionally, I posit that those living on the frontier would be the same kind of people who did so in the past: a combination of intrepid adventurers, miscreants, thieves, debtors, desperate people, et al (and their descendants) all hoping for greater opportunities than existed from where they emigrated. I wouldn't expect any place populated by such a variety of characters to be a squeaky clean utopia.

Personally, I would love to live in a time when we humans have figured out how to coexist without exploiting others to sate our own greed, but I don't see that happening any time soon. And I can easily imagine that it won't even happen 200 years from now.

Additionally, peaceful coexistence and squeaky clean utopias make, in my opinion, for boring stories. If history has proven anything to us it is that we are never satisfied. And I don't see us, as a species, ever being satisfied, even with paradise. I believe that there will always be those who find a way to undermine our well-being as a species, just to satisfy their own selfishness.
 
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Note: I don't mean to barrage the very thread I've revived, so I'll refrain from further comment after this remark.

And the porkpie hat looks even sillier in action than it seemed in my imagination.
Ha. I love how everyone piles on Miller for his silly hat.

I don't wear hats, myself, but some people do. If that seems like an obvious statement, it's intended to be. While I don't wear hats, and I think some who do look silly and/or ridiculous in them, it doesn't preclude their fashion choices. Douchebaggery is in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps Miller is a washed up douchebag. Does that make him a bad character? I don't think so. But I've got a soft-spot for Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, and I really enjoy a lot of Elmore Leonard's output, so the hardboiled detective trope is near to my heart ... even though, objectively, I realize that these guys are sad, broken men whom I'd probably not want to know in real life.

But I don't read stories to see my real life reflected back at me. I read stories to see people behaving nobly or badly or, hopefully, both nobly and badly. I read to see--preferably flawed--characters be who they are, even if they are a douchebag. And, if the portrayal seems genuine enough, I keep reading, to see where the story takes them.
 

Vertigo

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it's not just that it's a frontier society, it's also in an environment totally inimical to all life requiring a lot of well maintained technology to continue functioning and I just don't see this sort of society maintaining the environmental integrity of such a place. The whole thing would, I feel, collapse sooner rather than later. And that is what really pushed my disbelief suspension too far. I should add that this is the case with all too many such sf fantasy stories.

On the whole pork pie hat burned out detective thing; it is corny but it still can work given some sort of fresh angle; simply setting it in sf is not enough for me and the whole burned out detective aspect felt to me like it was lifted straight out of the French Connection (right down to the pork pie hat) and just put in space. There was nothing really new in it and, for me, became tedious very quickly.

Bottom line; I found the whole thing to be little more than a montage of everything the authors could find that had ever contributed to a successful tv series. And note I say tv series not book there.

However I must add that clearly the books and to series have been tremendously successful, so it seems probable I'm being just a little over critical :)
 

Vince W

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No so @Vertigo. Your feelings echo mine about this series. I've never watched the programme, but the first book, which I only got part way through, felt like the writers had made a list of things from past successful stories that had to be included.
 

psikeyhackr

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I nearly quit when I got to the "vomit zombies". It was merely OK up to that point.

But I just reread Cold as Ice by Charles Sheffield. I think it is better than Leviathan Wakes. But it is a post-war story not a start of war story.

Cold As Ice by Charles Sheffield

Who knows what takes off in the market place. Fortunately The Expanse mini-series seems to be better than the book. Maybe it is the medium and done well for it.
 
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On the whole pork pie hat burned out detective thing; it is corny but it still can work given some sort of fresh angle; simply setting it in sf is not enough for me and the whole burned out detective aspect felt to me like it was lifted straight out of the French Connection (right down to the pork pie hat) and just put in space. There was nothing really new in it and, for me, became tedious very quickly.
I can certainly see why all of the things a lot of you have cited would be turnoffs. I suppose where I benefit is from never having read the book, and only seeing the series. To this point, I've enjoyed it. And, perhaps mercifully, they've replaced Miller's porkpie hat with a fedora. :)

This whole vomit zombies thing intrigues me ... not in that it makes me want to read the books, but in that it exists and you all hate it. I tend to avoid anything with zombies in it, which means that, as a writer, I'm missing out on cashing in on the slew of zombie-related media there is, these days, but c'est la vie. I just can't deal with it; no trope bores me more.

In The Expanse show, they seem to have mercifully avoided the zombies, as yet. The closest glimpse I got of what I figure you're talking about are the folks on Eros that got radiated and exposed to the protomolecule.
 

psikeyhackr

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I only read up until the space zombies and that was it for me and it was a massive struggle to reach that far. If I were to bother writing a review it would have been far more vitriolic than yours @Vertigo. ;)
It is funny what it takes to evaluate a story or TV show. In a way I like The Expanse better than Star Trek visually because the Enterprise comes across more as a flying hotel than a space ship. But that does not come across in the book. But the book really pissed me off when the asteroid jumps out of the way of the collision with the star ship without the slightest clue of how the zombie mud knew the space ship was coming.

psik
 

psikeyhackr

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In The Expanse show, they seem to have mercifully avoided the zombies, as yet. The closest glimpse I got of what I figure you're talking about are the folks on Eros that got radiated and exposed to the protomolecule.
That's them. It does not matter what pseudo-scientific BS is given for the zombies.

Protomolecule

I finished Leviathan Wakes but I decided I was not buying any more of the series. So I will have to see what the miniseries does with it. In some ways I am more forgiving of TV than books. The series seems to be about hooking a readership to make a buck, not create anything that I would regard as forward thinking science fiction. Belters and interplanetary wars are nowhere near new concepts, but how many people who just watch science fiction know that?

psik
 

Vertigo

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Interesting comments all. maybe this is an example of the TV being better than the book. I've not watched the tv series yet but I rarely watch tv these days.
 

Brian G Turner

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Well, I started reading it, but put it down after the Prologue as it looked like it was just going to be Zombies in Space, which holds no interest for me. However, having begun watching the series and really enjoying the first episode, I think I'll end up picking this up again. I'll watch the series first, though, then read the book after, so I can't get frustrated about the bits they changed for the TV adaptation. :)
 

Bugg

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I had a similar reaction to LW the first time I read it, too. Things improve a lot, though, for what it's worth. Also, as book to screen adaptations go, The Expanse is very good, IMO. I actually much prefer it as an adaptation to Game of Thrones. There, I've said it :ninja:
 

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Well, I started reading it, but put it down after the Prologue as it looked like it was just going to be Zombies in Space, which holds no interest for me. However, having begun watching the series and really enjoying the first episode, I think I'll end up picking this up again. I'll watch the series first, though, then read the book after, so I can't get frustrated about the bits they changed for the TV adaptation. :)
Had it been about zombies, it would have lost me as a viewer (and a reader for that matter).
As it turns out, the protomolecule’s effect is far more elegant than just creating zombies.
 
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