Books of 2013, #26 & #30: Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

I’ve never bothered combining two posts before, but it seems fair with these books — the last two of a trilogy I started a year or two ago with Leviathan Wakes.

Corey — the pen name of collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck — has created here a pretty solid little hard-SF space opera. The initial scene is set with the first book (seriously, start there if this appeals to you): in the not-too-far future, mankind has settled the moon, Mars, parts of the asteroid belt, and some of the gas giant moons. Our story involves a somewhat disgraced pilot (Jim Holden), tension between the Belters, Mars, and Earth, a hard-boiled-ish detective, a missing girl, mysterious alien tech, political intrigue, and a pace that’ll keep you up nights. There’s lots to like here.

The second book, Caliban’s War (which I finished over a month ago; I am so VERY behind on these posts), is perhaps a bit better, though it relies more on stock characters than the first, and the recurrence of a central theme (“missing girl”) is only mostly excused by the starkly different environment in which the pursuit happens. The mysterious alien tech is better understood, and bad things are happening because we meddled with it. (Who saw THAT coming, right?) The best part here is that a new main character is a irascible and bluntly charming Indian woman (Chrisjen Avasarala) who works political angles within Earth’s government with an aplomb that wouldn’t be out of place from Frank Underwood.

The final book, which I read partly because “vacation” and partly because of the momentum I felt after reading the second, is more of a let down. They move the pieces around, and we return to our ersatz Han Solo as a main character while adding a few new ones who are nowhere nearly as much fun as Avasarala. There’s a clumsy plot that calls back to the first book, and a sort of on-rails experience regarding the “big reveal” about the alien technology, where it came from, and what it’s ultimately for.

Still, none of these books take more than a day or two to read, so you don’t expect them to be plotted like Swiss watches. They were fun, and I’d probably give something from Corey another go, but I’m pretty sure I’d skip anything else in this particular universe; it’s clear they love it, but it’s equally clear they hold on to some elements book to book more than perhaps they should.

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