Corey - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Leviathan Wakes
(The Expanse series, Book 1)
James S. A. Corey
Orbit
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: Humanity's spread through the solar system may ride on ingenuity and persistence, but brings with it other human traits, such as greed, selfishness, and tribalism. Mars bickers with Earth, while both worlds view the Belters - people of the asteroid belt and beyond, changed by generations of low gravity and artificial atmospheres - as something subtly less than human. Various factions, particularly the vocal (and occasionally violent) Outer Planets Alliance, rally for rights and independence, but so far mutual need keeps the guns (mostly) silent on all sides.
The balance is about to change...
When the worn-out ice freighter Canterbury picks up a distress call, Jim Holden is among the small shuttle crew sent to seek survivors - or salvage. Instead, he finds a trap set by a new foe, one with advanced technology and an unknown agenda. He and his crewmates struggle to survive, dodging lies and gunfire, as they try to navigate forces beyond their control.
On Ceres station in the Belt, Detective Miller's barely-functional career as a Star Helix law enforcement officer gets a minor boost when his boss selects him for an off-the-books investigation, tracking down the wayward daughter of an Earth business magnate. The deeper Miller digs into the life and disappearance of Julie Mao, the more he realizes he's onto something much bigger than a runaway case.
Both Holden and Miller have become part of a system-shaking conspiracy with ties to a mysterious discovery from deep space, one that might lift humans to the stars - or exterminate them utterly.

REVIEW: I came at this book a little backwards, having watched Season 1 of SyFy's series based on this book. The story arc's mostly the same, though several elements were tweaked for television... often, I must say, for the better. The book's still rather good, though, a space opera set in the early days of interplanetary expansion. It's a lived-in world, with dirt in the corners and grease under the fingernails, where the gap between poverty and privilege is enhanced by the vacuum of space; failure to afford basics doesn't just mean living in a shack, it means death when atmospheric recyclers fail, a weakness the powerful don't hesitate to exploit over the powerless. The characters could be a little flat at times, and the dialog occasionally clunked, but the action's mostly brisk enough to overlook such flaws, and it culminates in a fine finale. It kept drawing me back to read just a chapter or two more, which definitely means it did something right. I look forward to Book 2... not to mention finding the second season of the TV show when it comes to Amazon Prime.

You might also enjoy:
Foundation (Isaac Asimov, Fiction - A lone planet on the galactic rim holds out hope in the face of rising interstellar barbarism and decay)
Star Dragon (Mike Brotherton, Fiction - A starship sets out to investigate and capture an alien creature living in the cosmic maelstrom of an unstable binary star system)
Red Rising (Pierce Brown, Fiction - A Red slave from the mines of Mars seeks justice and vengeance by infiltrating the ruling Gold class of the interplanetary empire)
The Ender series (Orson Scott Card, YA? Fiction - Humans fight off an alien invasion, then spread to gain their own foothold among the stars)
The Star Rigger series (Jeffrey A. Carver, Fiction - Interstellar ships travel between the stars through hyperspace, navigated by lucid-dreaming pilots)
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu, Fiction - A nanotechnologist is recruited to investigate a rash of tragedies in Earth's intellectual elite, with mysterious ties to a VR game and a shadowy organization)
Deathstalker (Simon R. Green, Fiction - An outlawed lord in a galactic empire becomes the unwilling head of a revolution)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
Starflight (Melissa Landers, YA Fiction - Teen orphan Solara and spoiled son of privilege Doran become entangled with a peculiar starship crew in a cross-galaxy race against multiple enemies)
The Brain and Brawn Ships series (Anne McCaffrey, Fiction - The starships of the future have human brains as central computers)
Trading in Danger (Elizabeth Moon, Fiction - The disgraced daughter of an interstellar shipping dynasty finds herself in the middle of a galactic conflict)
Starswarm (Jerry Pournelle, YA Fiction - A boy on a colony world explores a secret among the native flora and fauna)
Arcana Universalis (Chris J. Randolph, Fiction - A starfaring, magic-based empire stands on the brink of catastrophic collapse)
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, Fiction - The epic tale of Mankind's colonization of Mars)
Old Man's War (John Scalzi, Fiction - Retired adults are recruited to fight humanity's interstellar wars)
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge, Fiction - A Blight with godlike powers threatens the galaxy, with the only countermeasure lost on a primitive world)
On Basilisk Station (David Weber, Fiction - A dishonored captain of an interstellar navy discovers a plot against her kingdom)
The Expanse: Season 1 (2015 TV series DVD - SyFy's series based on this book)

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Caliban's War
(The Expanse series, Book 2)
James S. A. Corey
Orbit
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: A year ago, a team of scientists discovered humans were not alone in the universe - and attempted to exploit the protomolecule, the virus-like creation of an unknown species, for profit, an effort that nearly led to the obliteration of life on Earth. Now, it has taken over uninhabited Venus, running through its inscrutible "program" while baffled humans observe. With the outfit behind the outbreak dismantled and every known sample beyond Venus destroyed, everyone thought that the threat was as good as contained... but everyone thought wrong.
Martian space marine Roberta "Bobby" Draper was stationed on Ganymede, the "breadbasket" of the outer colonies, when an impossible monster attacks, leaving her the only surviving witness to a strike with all the earmarks of the protomolecule. She becomes a pawn in a political game played by her Martian superiors and the United Nations of Earth and Luna, but what she really wants is to avenge her fallen friends, no matter the cost.
Praxidike Meng, a botanist on Ganymede, thought the greatest tragedy of the attacks was the loss of his experimental crops - until he learns that his young daughter Mei was abducted by her doctor, along with several other children, mere hours before the trouble began. His desperate search leads him to a most unlikely knight: Captain James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante, who are either thieves, heroes, terrorists, or traitors, depending upon whom one asks. All Prax knows, or cares, is that when he needed help, they were there... but the search for Mei becomes part of a much greater conspiracy.
Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala has been a vital cog in the government machine, not to mention a shrewd player in the game, for decades, but never in her career has she faced anything like this. As the fallout of the Ganymede incident again tilts the delicate balance of power toward open interplanetary war, alliances crumble and enemies turn up in the most unexpected places. For the first time. Avasalara may have been outmaneuvered - and if she loses the game, countless people may lose their lives.

REVIEW: Like the first book, Caliban's War presents a well-paced tale of space travel, political intrigue, grit, and wonder, not to mention a good deal of explosions and gunfights. The characters aren't always the deepest, but they do grow and change. Holden has been scarred by his experiences in the first book, and must work to rediscover himself even as he finds himself once more plunged into danger. (If the other crewmembers of the Rocinante are somewhat less scarred, they didn't personally experience what Holden did - plus, they're more of a supporting cast than stars, even if their personalities and backgrounds expand here.) The new characters each bring distinctive strengths and weaknesses to the table, not without some personality and agenda clashes. They also, like the first book, represent a nice swath of diversity in a genre that sometimes still leans a little white and male. It's not a deep or profound read, with some of the writing still clunking a bit now and again, but it nevertheless entertains. This book also ends on a hook (not a true cliffhanger) that makes me glad I have Book 3 already on deck, even if it might have to wait a bit before I pick it up. So far, I'm enjoying this series.

You might also enjoy:
Foundation (Isaac Asimov, Fiction - A lone planet on the galactic rim holds out hope in the face of rising interstellar barbarism and decay)
Star Dragon (Mike Brotherton, Fiction - A starship sets out to investigate and capture an alien creature living in the cosmic maelstrom of an unstable binary star system)
Red Rising (Pierce Brown, Fiction - A Red slave from the mines of Mars seeks justice and vengeance by infiltrating the ruling Gold class of the interplanetary empire)
The Ender series (Orson Scott Card, YA? Fiction - Humans fight off an alien invasion, then spread to gain their own foothold among the stars)
The Star Rigger series (Jeffrey A. Carver, Fiction - Interstellar ships travel between the stars through hyperspace, navigated by lucid-dreaming pilots)
Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke, Fiction - The arrival of alien Overlords ushers humanity into a golden age.. and possible extinction))
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu, Fiction - A nanotechnologist is recruited to investigate a rash of tragedies in Earth's intellectual elite, with mysterious ties to a VR game and a shadowy organization)
Deathstalker (Simon R. Green, Fiction - An outlawed lord in a galactic empire becomes the unwilling head of a revolution)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
Starflight (Melissa Landers, YA Fiction - Teen orphan Solara and spoiled son of privilege Doran become entangled with a peculiar starship crew in a cross-galaxy race against multiple enemies)
The Brain and Brawn Ships series (Anne McCaffrey, Fiction - The starships of the future have human brains as central computers)
Trading in Danger (Elizabeth Moon, Fiction - The disgraced daughter of an interstellar shipping dynasty finds herself in the middle of a galactic conflict)
Starswarm (Jerry Pournelle, YA Fiction - A boy on a colony world explores a secret among the native flora and fauna)
Arcana Universalis (Chris J. Randolph, Fiction - A starfaring, magic-based empire stands on the brink of catastrophic collapse)
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, Fiction - The epic tale of Mankind's colonization of Mars)
Old Man's War (John Scalzi, Fiction - Retired adults are recruited to fight humanity's interstellar wars)
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge, Fiction - A Blight with godlike powers threatens the galaxy, with the only countermeasure lost on a primitive world)
On Basilisk Station (David Weber, Fiction - A dishonored captain of an interstellar navy discovers a plot against her kingdom)
The Expanse: Season 1 (2015 TV series DVD - SyFy's series based on this book)

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Abaddon's Gate
(The Expanse series, Book 3)
James S. A. Corey
Orbit
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: After nearly destroying Earth and taking over Venus, the alien protomolecue seemed to have completed its "program" when it sent a mysterious, self-assembling Ring out to the orbit of Uranus. Surrounded by curious scientists, the vast artifact hung inert, and may have stayed that way until an errant thrill-seeker's ship plunged into its depths - and vanished. Now the race is on to explore the unknown, starless void beyond the Ring, a race of science and power that once more raises tensions between Earth, Mars, and the recently-legitimized Outer Planets Alliance... and, once more Captain James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante find themselves in the thick of things. Further complicating matters are a new OPA warship whose crew are already at each others' throats before they leave Tycho Station, a ship full of artists and politicians and priests of various denominations whose original goal - publicity and a show of power - becomes dangerously complicated, a woman with a single-minded agenda who might endanger everyone... and visions that haunt Holden, the image of the deceased Detective Miller as co-opted by the protomolecule, who seems to be trying to tell him something important about the Ring and the unknown race who built it. As these forces collide, humanity may stand on the threshold of its greatest discovery - or on the edge of its extiction.

REVIEW: The third installment of the Expanse series just barely pulled off its four-star rating. It seemed to take a little longer to get moving, with new characters who were occasionally hard to care about (particularly Clarissa/Melba, the overlooked daughter of the disgraced and imprisoned magnate Mao, who has bent her entire life on exacting vengeance for the downfall of her father's empire.) Once the book finds its footing, though, it's once again off and running in a fine spacefaring romp full of new wonders, escalating danger, and the complicated nature of the human animal as it reaches beyond its native habitat to grasp at new toys. I'm a little concerned at the increased religious presence and tone in this book - I hope it isn't going to turn into "inspirational" fiction, because that's really not my cup of cocoa and it would rather spoil the series for me to shoehorn God, particularly a human vision of God, into this space opera. Between that and Clarissa, whom I really didn't care for, it came very close to losing marks, but a sufficiently enjoyable finale managed to keep it afloat in the ratings. I hope things improve a little for the fourth book, though.

You might also enjoy:
Foundation (Isaac Asimov, Fiction - A lone planet on the galactic rim holds out hope in the face of rising interstellar barbarism and decay)
Star Dragon (Mike Brotherton, Fiction - A starship sets out to investigate and capture an alien creature living in the cosmic maelstrom of an unstable binary star system)
Red Rising (Pierce Brown, Fiction - A Red slave from the mines of Mars seeks justice and vengeance by infiltrating the ruling Gold class of the interplanetary empire)
The Ender series (Orson Scott Card, YA? Fiction - Humans fight off an alien invasion, then spread to gain their own foothold among the stars)
The Star Rigger series (Jeffrey A. Carver, Fiction - Interstellar ships travel between the stars through hyperspace, navigated by lucid-dreaming pilots)
Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke, Fiction - The arrival of alien Overlords ushers humanity into a golden age.. and possible extinction))
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu, Fiction - A nanotechnologist is recruited to investigate a rash of tragedies in Earth's intellectual elite, with mysterious ties to a VR game and a shadowy organization)
Deathstalker (Simon R. Green, Fiction - An outlawed lord in a galactic empire becomes the unwilling head of a revolution)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
Starflight (Melissa Landers, YA Fiction - Teen orphan Solara and spoiled son of privilege Doran become entangled with a peculiar starship crew in a cross-galaxy race against multiple enemies)
The Brain and Brawn Ships series (Anne McCaffrey, Fiction - The starships of the future have human brains as central computers)
Trading in Danger (Elizabeth Moon, Fiction - The disgraced daughter of an interstellar shipping dynasty finds herself in the middle of a galactic conflict)
Starswarm (Jerry Pournelle, YA Fiction - A boy on a colony world explores a secret among the native flora and fauna)
Arcana Universalis (Chris J. Randolph, Fiction - A starfaring, magic-based empire stands on the brink of catastrophic collapse)
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, Fiction - The epic tale of Mankind's colonization of Mars)
Old Man's War (John Scalzi, Fiction - Retired adults are recruited to fight humanity's interstellar wars)
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge, Fiction - A Blight with godlike powers threatens the galaxy, with the only countermeasure lost on a primitive world)
On Basilisk Station (David Weber, Fiction - A dishonored captain of an interstellar navy discovers a plot against her kingdom)
The Expanse: Season 1 (2015 TV series DVD - SyFy's series based on this book)

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