James S.A. Corey – Caliban’s War (2012) Review

  • Series: The Expanse, book 2
  • 7.5/10

Not long after the events of book one, Leviathan Wakes, all hell breaks loose on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. A military standoff between the UN and Mars turns bad, but an even more worrisome event happens on the surface, something that has to do with the trouble on Eros. James Holden and his crew of the Rocinante are sent out to Ganymede by Fred Johnson for some undercover intelligence work. From thereon, a new adventure awaits for Holden and his crew.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck introduce three new characters for us here. You may already know Chrisjen Avasarala if you watch the TV show; a hard, political woman in the high ranks of the UN on Earth. She is a great character and a welcome addition to the series as a very distinctive voice in the land of politics. The books have her use a lot more cusswords, which fits her well and is quite humorous. Down on the surface of Ganymede we also meet Bobbie, a tough female Martian marine, and Prax, a botanist whose daughter gets abducted just before the troubles break out.

Which means more point-of-view characters. Which also means more jumping around the solar system. The alternating point-of-view of Holden and Miller in Leviathan Wakes had an elegance to it, and Caliban’s War approaches that elegance once Holden meets Prax and once Avasarala meets Bobbie. All the lines merge together nicely.

Caliban’s War is remarkably similar in structure and plot to Leviathan Wakes. The trouble on Ganymede feels like a repeat of the panicky crowds on Eros. Once again a girl is missing, and her disappearance is connected with clandestine experimentation, and war is created as a coverup. Holden and crew chase after the leads to find her. Meanwhile, Avasarala at the UN is trying to find out what is going on.

What the series is missing the most is interesting futuristic ideas. This is mostly a tale of space rockets, tough guys and moons. The tension between Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt reflects many situations here on Earth, like the Cold War, and countries fighting over the resources of poorer regions. Maybe that’s the point, but it’s hardly a fresh story. It’s also a tale of characters, of Holden, Naomi and Amos, Avasarala and so on, but they stay very flat. It’s also a tale full of plot, but the plot is copied from the first book.

The series has good things to add to the body of science fiction. Mostly, it is nice to see planets and moons like Ceres, Ganymede and Io being referred to as if they are countries. These names have a familiarity to the people of the future who travel to them and live on them, and I would like to see our future go that way. I hope that the characters keep growing, because that is the only way that the series will keep being worth it. It was nice to see Amos taking care of Prax, showing that Amos is not just an emotionless jockey. Holden though is annoyingly naïve, and Naomi still lacks personality; she’s just there as Holden’s love interest.

Caliban’s War’s greatest addition to the Expanse series is Avasarala and the political games surrounding her. Her thread gives this future society another dimension for us readers to chew on, and between all the young, naïve, impulsive characters, the wizened and sharp Avasarala contrasts nicely. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Prax and Bobbie. They weren’t very interesting, and even standing Avarasala is a matter of taste. Abrahams and Franck seem to have rather basic ideas about what is “awesome”, and those include rockets, zombies and a cursing grandmother.

All in all, it’s a nice adventure in space with a fast-moving plot. It’s exactly what you would expect it to be and doesn’t rise above it.

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