Book Review: Cibola Burn
Guess what? I've finally watched season one of The Expanse.* You know, about the same time as I finished book four of the series. Which was, like all its predecessors, a really enjoyable ride.
The ancient alien rings are active, and the galaxy is open to human colonization. On Ilus/New Terra, Belter colonists clash with Earth colonists in a struggle for ownership of the planet. James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are sent to mediate the dispute, but each side keeps increasing the tensions. And just when Holden might have a grip on the situation, the alien tech on the planet begins to wake up - with disastrous effect.
The Roci crew is as fun as ever, and as with past books, we get to see new sides of them as we go. We get Alex's backstory here for the first time, adding more depth to his character. We get to see Amos kick into danger mode. We see Holden as mediator, something you'd think him incapable of (that being the reason for choosing him) and yet his idealism from Leviathan Wakes has been tempered by age and conflict. And Naomi gets captured but never becomes the damsel in distress, a fine line that Corey walks with skill.
Our new viewpoints include two familiar faces: Miller's old partner Havelock, and Basia, who we briefly met on Ganymede during Caliban's War. Basia, much like Prax, is compelling in his care for his children, even if his early actions kill a lot of people and light the proverbial match to set the book's conflict aflame. He gives us insight into what it's like to make this sort of move to a colony so far beyond the reaches of anything familiar.
But it was Havelock I found myself looking forward to. His early viewpoints feel a bit like the Stanford prison experiment, until he wises up and gets himself out from under Murtry. He jives well with the rest of the Roci crew in the book's later chapters, and I'm almost sad to see him go.
Elvi is the third new POV here, and she brings a much appreciated take on the science of this new world. It's gratifying to see things here that have always bugged me about science fiction movies and TV addressed head-on; Elvi's overriding concern is the cross-contamination being done to both the humans and the local environment since there's no containment dome.
And in the non-POV characters, we have our new bad guy, Murtry. He's just the sort of guy you love to hate, and boy, did I love hating him. I mean, what a douchebag. He's a bit of a caricature, a not-infrequent problem with Corey's human villains, but he's vastly more infuriating to read about than any of the prior villains because he's so much closer to the action - and to Holden.
As I've come to expect from Expanse books, the plot moves quickly and takes no prisoners. It combines the fun of space exploration and adventure with human drama and a central alien mystery, without ever feeling like it's carrying too much. There's never a dull moment, even in the beginning as Corey sets up the pieces. And the book's climax makes you feel the tension and suspense, particularly for the crews of the Roci, the Barbapiccola and the Edward Israel, in such a deep, close way.
But while this story is self-contained and localized to Ilus/New Terra, the book's end gives a glimpse of what's coming - and it ain't gonna be pretty. Humanity is about to move out into the stars, and that's bad news for old Earth and Mars. I sense a lot of drama to come.
To sum, Cibola Burn is another excellent installment in the Expanse series. I'm not sure if it's my favorite, but it's definitely on par with Caliban's War. I've already bought book five!
*I'm really enjoying it. For quality of production and quality of acting, it's one of the better shows I've watched recently. I'm particularly fond of the actors playing Avasarala and Miller, both of whom are just NAILING it. Onward, to season two!