Review of Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

12591719Title: Abaddon’s Gate (Expanse #3)

Author: James S. A. Corey

Publisher: Orbit Books

Format: Trade Paperback

Where I Received the Title: Library

Review:

In Abaddon’s Gate, Jim Holden returns for another adreniline-filled space adventure with the stakes as high as in the previous novels — the fate of humanity. The protomolecule, which inhabited Venus in the previous novel, has now aligned itself in space in the form of a giant ring. It comes with great power and has the ability to decelerate any-sized space ship that tries to pass through it with little effort. But why is it there?

Holden and his crew, who are now living large off a fat pay check, have no interest in visiting the entity. Their luck changes when a court order comes through for Holden to turn in his stolen ship, Holden must accept the prospects of an ambitious journalist to keep his transport out of the Martians’ hands. It comes as little surprise that this journalist wants to investigate the ring.

Concerned with the destructive nature of the ring, the UN, Martian, and Belter ships follow. The head of security aboard the Belter ship is a man appropriately named Bull, who is not afraid to take action and ask for permission later. Despite his hard head, he must search to find where his true alliances lie. An Earther UN ship also follows, carrying a civilian crew that includes a Russian Methodist pastor named Anna and a saboteur who calls herself Melba, but is really Clarissa Mao, the vengeful daughter of a man that Holden defied in a previous adventure.

The writing team that is James S. A. Corey delivers once again a fast-paced read that puts just enough science into the mix to make it believable. The action is great and the characters come to life, but unfortunately with the third novel, I felt the story didn’t really go anywhere. Yes, the purpose of the protomolecule in developing the ring is told to the reader, but the question of “so what?” was never clear. The conflict was quite typical and predictable as the Belters, Earthers, and Martians formed all-together new alliances and duked it out inside the ring.

Abaddon’s Gate continues to thrill fans of James S.A. Corey, but for my personal taste I was a bit disappointed. I am hoping for more complexity and more answers in the following book with the same witty dialog and exciting action that makes this series so great. If you are looking for an action-filled space opera, this is certainly the series to read.

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Review of Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

216422Title: Star Wars: The Last Command

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 3 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

It’s always interesting to read a novel (or in this case, a series) for the second time. I was but a wee lad when it first came out — a middle schooler who had recently ventured into the world of adult novels, reading the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Star Wars, with a much greater sense of innocence, was still appealing with its heroism and magic of the force.

After reviewing the first novel, I was almost disappointed that I decided to reread the series. My review of the second novel was better, with Dark Force Rising displaying better character development and action. So here I am, reviewing the third and final novel in the series, The Last Command.

I’d love to write a glowing review. I’d love to say that it brought back the nostalgic fascination I once had with the series as it expanded the original Star Wars trilogy into the future. But the truth is that the trilogy’s impact on me seems to have lost some luster. In the third novel, Grand Admiral Thrawn is planning a large attack on the rebels. He has amassed a collection of ships and has a secret cloning lab where he plans to gain the manpower to rule the galaxy.

Leia gives birth to her twins and finds that they are even more difficult to protect outside of her womb. She has to trust her help in keeping them safe, but she learns that there is a leak from within the ranks of the rebel alliance.

Mara Jade still remains bipolar, desiring to assist the rebels against the overly-oppressive Empire; however, the remnant command of the Emperor still speaks to her: “Kill Luke Skywalker.”

Joruus C’Boath becomes crazier than ever, with grandiose visions of ruling the Empire with Luke, Leia, Mara, and the twins serving him. Thrawn puts up with him, claiming to need him for one purpose or another, but really C’Boath is mostly a nuisance.

Luke, Han, and Lando make frequent appearances, but by the third novel, they are ancillary characters, experiencing very little change or actions to drive the plot forward.

So all of this brings me to my review and I am trying to resist from saying such cliches as some stones are better left unturned. With the improvements of the second novel over the first, I had hopes that the third novel would continue the pace. But where the second novel improved, the third novel digressed. Luke’s internal conflicts with the dark side are now gone and he sees C’Boath for who he really is — an evil, psychopathic dark Jedi (which should have been obvious in the first place). Mara Jade’s character, who seemed so complex in my early memories, actually comes across as equally naive. Her actions and thoughts are all sympathetic to the rebels, yet she clings to this vestige command to kill Luke and is haphazard as she mentions it in conversation.

And then there’s Thrawn. A supposedly mastermind supervillain who continues to put up with C’Boath and the incompetence of his underlings with patience and fortitude. There were moments in the first and second novels where he lived up to his hype, but once again, this was lost in the third novel. I guess I was hoping for a more courageous and evil antagonist — one who would deal severe consequences for incompetence and would aggressively dole out his strength against the rebels.

As I paced my way through the novel, there were moments that I thought were clever. I really liked the manner in which Mara Jade overcame her duality of emotions toward Luke at the end. Also, the smugglers banding together against the Empire, while remaining somewhat neutral, seemed realistic to me.

Overall, the series was a decent read, but it’s magic resides back in my youth, before the expanded universe had reached its breadth. The pacing is quick and the ending, unfortunately is abrupt and anticlimactic. For Star Wars fans, this series is of course a must read. On it’s own, it just doesn’t hold up to today’s standards.

Review: Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Title: Caliban’s War

Author: James S.A. Corey

Rating: 

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Kindle eBook

Review:

Caliban’s War was everything I could have hoped for as a sequel to Leviathan Wakes. There’s a tendency for second novels in a trilogy to be fillers, serving merely as a bridge between the first and third books. But this is not the case with Caliban’s War — we are given greater plot complexity, more and better-developed characters, and a war between cultures that becomes real conflict instead of a mere backdrop.

One of the two viewpoint characters from Leviathan Wakes returns: Jim Holden, the good-natured, but internally conflicted captain who has been contracted by the OPA to defend the Belters. We are also introduced to three new viewpoint characters: Prax, a divorced father and prestigious botanist living on the Jovian moon, Ganymede; Avasarala, an elderly, peace-seeking, foul-mouthed UN diplomat; and Bobbie, a spunky Martian marine who is on Ganymede when disaster strikes.

When a protomolecular creature strikes Ganymede, the UN and Martian marines are annihilated and Bobbi finds herself as the lone military survivor. When the creature is destroyed without evidence, the UN begins to suspect that the attack was orchestrated by the Martians, escalating the cold war between them. Avasarla is desperate to keep peace and hires Bobbi to help discover the truth behind the attack.

Meanwhile, Prax discovers that his daughter, Mei, has been kidnapped by her doctor. Her strange autoimmune disorder seems connected to the latest conspiracy with the protomolecule, but Prax doesn’t understand how. With the help of Holden’s crew, they embark on a mission to find Mei and once again find the source of the latest biological attack.

Caliban’s War is everything I desire in a novel. The characters are flawed and have to overcome their own fears and shortcomings to resolve their external conflicts. The dialog is sharp and the action scenes are riveting. There are two major plot threads that interweave nicely. Yes, it is entirely contrived that all four of our viewpoint characters encounter one another and some of the science seems to fall a little short, but none of this detracts from the novel. It is a fantastic blend once again of space opera, mystery, and horror that has a very similar flavor to the previous novel.

I am very excited to read the next book in the series, but I am really hoping that it takes a large step in terms of being different and more complex. We don’t need another daughter to be kidnapped and I would like to see some resolution in the conflict between the Belters, the Earthers, and the Martians.

If you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you should be delighted in this follow-up novel. It doesn’t stand alone very well, so I would recommend new readers start off with the first book in the series. There really isn’t enough space opera in genre fiction today and Caliban’s War broadens the series into an epic scale that I can wrap my teeth around. I recommend you do the same.

Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Wakes

Author: James S.A. Corey

Rating: 

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

“It’s been too long since we’ve had a really kickass space opera.”

There’s really no better way to summarize Leviathan Wakes than George R.R. Martin’s blurb on the cover. The novel is smart without being intellectual and well-written without being literary. It just simply kicks ass and its lack of pretentiousness is really what makes this novel appeal to the everyman.

Let me explain.

Take for example the laws of physics. In hard science fiction, velocities and accelerations are calculated to determine movement through space and time. In softer science fiction, space travel becomes a sort of fantasy where technology is nothing but a magic system. In Leviathan Wakes, there is an attempt to make the science plausible without boring the reader with the details. Gravity in outer space is achieved by the spinning of asteroids and there are limitations to what the human body can endure in terms of spaceship acceleration. No formulas required, just a reasonable effort to depict the universe we live in.

Leviathan Wakes is a blend of space opera and noirish detective work, with slight traces of horror. It is told from two points of view: that of Jim Holden, an idealistic freight officer, and Josephus Miller, a pragmatic, but often nihilistic detective. The effect of having two points of views is convenient — James S.A. Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who co-wrote the novel (each can write from an individual viewpoint). On the other hand, the pinging back and forth between the two characters is a little jarring and it might have helped to have a third viewpoint to balance the novel out.

Jim Holden is an XO on an ice miner that comes to assist a shipwrecked space vessel, the Scopuli. His ship and captain are destroyed by an unknown enemy during an attempted rescue and Holden sends out a message that is the catalyst for an interplanetary war. Holden becomes captain of his own vessel and he embarks on a mission to find out the meaning behind the Scopuli and their attacker.

Detective Miller is a belter from the asteroids of the outer planets who is contracted by two parents to find their missing daughter, Julie. His detective work leads him to Jim Holden and they learn that Julie was aboard the Scopuli and is the key to understanding what has transpired. In the midst of a great war, Holden and Miller journey to discover a conspiracy that threatens the fate of humanity.

What the novel did very well is developing its characters. Jim Holden is the moral character, having faith in his fellow man. But he is far from perfect — he is quick to judge others, he is stubborn, and has a history of using women (mistaking it for love). Detective Miller is not so optimistic. He trusts no one and has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. He remembers when killing had an emotional effect on him, but now he is just numb to it. He’s disobedient to authority and frankly can’t be trusted by his closest friends. In the end, Miller will do what he thinks is right at the time. As one can expect, the two men don’t always work well together, but each plays a crucial role in unfolding the mystery.

As mentioned earlier, I really appreciate the novel trying to apply the physical laws of our world — after all, it takes place in our solar system. The dialog is witty and the action scenes are good. Where the novel falls a little short is in the plot development. There were many times in the novel where I didn’t feel it was building toward something. Right from the beginning we are shown glimpses of horror — something so grotesque and frightening that we are longing to understand it. But it goes unmentioned and does not show itself until later in the novel. I’m reminded of the movie From Dusk Till Dawn, where we have what appears to be a straightforward robbery and kidnapping drama. Then halfway through, it suddenly becomes a vampire movie. This happens to a lesser extent with Leviathan Wakes. A throwback space opera takes an abrupt turn into a Dean Koontz-style horror or scenes from a Ridley Scott movie. But this horror is never quite understood or realized in a way that resolves all of our questions.

Overall, this novel was a very good read. I will definitely be reading the second book in the series very soon. Leviathan Wakes is approachable, witty, and a helluva ride that will have you racing through the text to find out what happens next. I have no hesitation in recommending the novel.