Caliban’s War, The Expanse Book 2
James S.A. Corey,
New York, NY: Orbit, 2012
On the day on which it was reported (or at least I noticed it for the first time) that a form of miniature planet that has come to be known as the Goblin is one of three distant bodies which take up to 40,000 years to orbit the sun and which suggests the presence of an as yet undiscovered larger than Earth-sized planet in a remote part of the solar system, it is perhaps instructive to be reminded of the enormity of space and the risks that would be faced by those traversing it in fragile spaceships. The sailors of the past also faced death and ruin at any moment but their downfalls were likely to be comparatively lengthy affairs during which time it might be possible to come to some kind of terms with one’s own maker. Space flight, on the other hand, runs a perpetual risk of immediate, unexpected death from a wide range of possible reasons, many of which are beyond our control for the foreseeable future. All of this danger becomes, of course, intensified when people start shooting each other. Alas, it seems impossible for the people of the earth, Mars, the Outer Planets Alliance and the ominous seeming alien infestation on Venus to be able to live together in peace and harmony. How would people think about themselves and their future in such a situation?
In the case of The Expanse, an imagined universe based on the solar system of the relatively near future, most people tend towards the nihilistic, focusing on hedonistic highlights among the drudgery or else personal career development goals, in addition to the idealistic, who aim to develop the lot of humanity one nutrient-yielding plant at a time. The former includes most of the crew of the Rocinante, which is an advanced Martian warship that has fallen into the hands of our hero-adventurers, while the latter includes the ship’s captain, James Holden, whose moral issues tend to drive most of the action, albeit set against a background of deeper and more powerful forces. In the first book of the series, Holden was involved in the events that led to the infection of Venus (read the earlier book first) and now his decision suddenly to help a distraught botanist on a destroyed orbital habitat find his lost daughter leads to the peregrinations of the principal characters. While they search for her, the rest of humanity seems doomed to an internecine war that might destroy all of the inhabited planets or, at least, ruin the trust that might make further progress possible, especially with respect to the emergent alien threat. This threat is also intensifying as more evidence emerges of the power and reach of what appears to be an implacable enemy.
This is a jolly romp through space with chases and explosions and unexpected twists and turns that are likely to keep a reader hooked for the duration of the ride (and perhaps others of this multi-volume series too, I believe half a dozen have been published so far). In this sense, the book is a little old-fashioned: there is sufficient technology to get the characters around the solar system as required and to abridge the occasional plot hole but the characters are not fundamentally changed by it. Everyone (apart from the deprived outer planet rats) has access to a kind of smart phone but they are not in any way controlled by the content or possibilities provided. There do not seem to be sports or cultural production on any organized scale, no one quotes any song or poetry or even film that might have been produced or which exists at the current time. It seems likely that the authors (two of them writing under a pen name) were aiming for the television series that has now been made. That is OK, since this is an entertainment and it succeeds in those terms. There is more thought-provoking work available for the who might wish to read it.