the Little Red Reviewer

Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey

Posted on: June 8, 2013

calibans warCaliban’s War (book 2 of The Expanse series) by James S.A. Corey

published in June 2012

where I got it: gift from a friend, and it’s autographed! I have the bestest friends in the world!

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This is the second novel in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse trilogy, so there will be spoilers, some major,  for the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes (review here).  Ok, so spoilers is bad news. but the good news is, I think you could start with Caliban’s War first, and then read Leviathan Wakes, and be a-ok.

Picking up about a year after the events of Leviathan Wakes, the landscape of Caliban’s War is more a dark new world rather than a bold or brave one. Holden and crew are sitting pretty in their stolen martian warship, renamed Rocinante, and doing escort duty and pirate hunting for the Outer Planets Alliance. It’s boring, but safe. Relatively speaking. Holden is safe so long as he’s awake. Because when he sleeps, he dreams only of the horrors of Eros.  His relationship with Naomi has finally settled into something called a relationship, but she’s getting sick of the “new” Holden; The Jim Holden who shoots first and asks questions later, the one who acts too much like the late Detective Miller. But how could anyone come through the events of Eros unscathed?  I was fascinated by Holden’s tacit denial of how he’s handling what he went through by not handling it. His PTSD is the white elephant in the room. Maybe he’ll think twice next time before he decides to play hero. Yeah right.

Meanwhile, we watch as on Ganymede two seemingly unrelated events unfold: a handful of children go missing,  and a superhuman crerature slaughters  platoons of UN and Martian troops, leaving one survivor.

Unrelated my ass.

At least that’s what Chrisjen Avasarala believes. A high ranking politician on Earth, she pushes and pulls and manipulates, getting Earth governments to move in the directions she needs them to go.

Remember the thing at the end of Leviathan Wakes? I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it, I don’t even want to justify its creepy existence with what everyone in the book calls it, so I’ll just keep on calling it “the thing”, thank you very much. It’s been doing something on Venus. Scientists aren’t quite sure what, they don’t even know what they’re seeing, let alone what to watch for.  As all eyes are on the disaster unfolding on Ganymede, something that looks disturbingly like what happened on Eros. George R R Martin had it right the first time: you’re marching the wrong way.

There’s action happening everywhere in Caliban’s War – on Earth, on Ganymede, travelling in between, and elsewhere. So it’s helpful to get multiple points of view. Chapters are split between the POVs of Holden, Avasarala, the Martian Marine Bobbie Draper, and Ganymede biologist Prax Meng.  Prax is desperate to find his missing daughter, Bobbie would like to know what killed her fellow marines on the surface of Ganymede, Avasarala would like to win in the game of politics, and Holden would really like to keep his crew from getting killed.

Of the new characters that are introduced, Avasarala is probably the best developed. She’s a grandma, a wife still mourning a dead son, one of the most powerful politicians on Earth, she is a force to be reckoned with. She’s all of those things all in the same moment. She expects great things from the people she works with, has no patience for bullshit, and swears like a sailor (no wonder Amos approves of her).  The mask she wears to work is all hard edges, demands, and hard to earn compliments. But at home, with her husband, she’s a bundle of vulnerabilities. I see myself growing up to be a lot like her.  Strength isn’t always physical. New characters Bobbie Draper and Dr. Prax Meng get plenty of attention and development too (we wouldn’t have a central plot without Prax), but Avasarala was my stand out favorite.

If you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you will love Caliban’s War.  If I listed everything I enjoyed about this book, we’d be sitting here until next week.  Similar to Leviathan Wakes, the plotting, pacing, characterization and dialog are spot on perfect. Striking a balance between space opera, adventure, and horror, if you’re looking for a new science fiction series to get hooked on, look no further because this is it. This series is everything you’ve been waiting for, everything you hoped all these summer scifi blockbuster movies would be – action, humor, politics, betrayal, and some brilliantly fucking terrifying alien technology that humans would of course, never do anything bad with. Of course they wouldn’t.

I do need to voice one complaint: Caliban’s War is a little too similar to  Leviathan Wakes. Everyone wants to kill Jim Holden because he won’t keep his stupid mouth shut, there’s a missing girl, there’s a secret lab that’s doing terrible things, Mars and Earth and the Outer Planets Alliance are all looking for any little reason to start a shooting war, allies will be found in the damndest places, and someone is going to get shot in the head at the end because by the time a diplomatic solution shows up, we’ll all be dead. It was frustrating how many of the plot points felt recycled. And yet. And yet the characters, dialog and pacing were so damn good I simply didn’t care.   Although Corey better give me something completely different in the 3rd novel in the series, Abaddon’s Gate (out right now!), otherwise I’m going to start thinking he’s a one trick pony.

Luckily, there’s a lovely little twist at the end of Caliban’s War that indicates exactly what I’m hoping for: something new and different and unexpected is to be found in Abaddon’s Gate.

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8 Responses to "Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey"

I loved Leviathan Wakes and I’ll read this one pretty soon. I don’t read as much sci-fi as I would like because I’ve struggled with the big space epics in the past. Leviathan Wakes was pitched just right. Futuristic, but still focused on Earth and its surrounding planets.

Do you know of any sci-fi similar to this that you could recommend? I’m sure there must be a lot of good sci-fi out there, but I struggle to find it.

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Without knowing your tastes at all, I can say that three other huge releases last year are all Solar System-centric. Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth, Brin’s Existence, and Robinson’s 2312 are less Hollywood than Corey’s series, but they avoid the far-flung space empire bits. They were all on my Best of 2013 list.
Little Red and I initially bonded by loudly disagreeing about Brin.

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LOL, the disagreement wasn’t that loud, was it? ;)

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I’ve only read the first novel, though this and now Abaddin’s Gate are on the shelf. I like that first novel a lot, so for me, more of the same – if not to damn frustrating – sounds fine. Since this is supposed to be space opera, I hope the book has a lot of that element and doesn’t devolve completely into a personality focus.

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I loved both books and am reading Abaddon’s Gate right now. I admit that I missed Miller’s character in this book, but Avasarala definitely made up for it. The Corey writing crew seem to be using Holden and his crew the center that holds the whole series together. But like you, I’m hoping for some darn great things from the third book. :D

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I am almost mid-way through CW and am enjoying it. I will echo Richard in that I’m not minding the ‘more of the same’ stuff as I found Leviathan Wakes to be so thoroughly enjoyable. And I’ll be the first to admit that though I am willing to and do go outside my comfort zone in my reading, I also like to have more of what I like.

I just read your opening and then closing paragraph and will come read the rest and comment again once I finish the book. I’m excited to have the motivation of Abaddon’s Gate coming out last week to get me moving on this series again. I snagged it as soon as it came out and it sits across from me on the shelf right now. Looking forward to getting to it but plan on savoring CW along the way.

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I had to skip most of this review because I finished Leviathan’s Wake not too long ago and will probably read this soon and wanted to avoid spoiling. I’m not much of a “space opera” fan, but Leviathan’s Wake kept me hooked and had the added bonus of creeping me out at times, so I’m looking forward to the next one.

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