the Little Red Reviewer

Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey

Posted on: August 9, 2013

Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey (book 3 of The Expanse)

published June 2012

where I got it: received review copy from Orbit (thanks!)

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Being a review of the 3rd novel in a series, this review has unavoidable spoilers for Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War.  Also, you really, really need to read this series.

The events at the end of Caliban’s War left Jim Holden’s crew alive and with money in the bank, and a big hole in space out near the edge of the Solar System. During the course of that novel, the alien technology that crashed into Venus was a busy little beaver, building huge structures, changing the chemistry of the planet, plotting who knew what. And then it shot out to the limits of the solar system and ripped a hole into the fabric of space time. A wormhole? A portal? No way of knowing what’s beyond the ring until someone gets out there and goes through the damn thing.

Jim Holden has had plenty of “knowing what’s out there”, thank you very much. He’s happy hauling freight anywhere that’s the opposite direction of the Ring. But thanks to a journalist backed by shadow politics and money, Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are headed exactly where they don’t want to go. The journalist, Monica Stuart, intends to interview the survivors of Eros, and Holden can’t let her find out that Miller’s ghost has been speaking to him more and more lately.

A note on the title of the book: Abaddon is a biblical reference to a place of destruction, a place of the perishing. Keep that in the back of your mind.

While I’d love to have an entire novel that’s just Holden and Naomi and Amos and Alex, James Corey gives us plenty of other point-of-view characters to root for as well. There’s Bull, the shat upon OPA security chief of The Behemoth who can’t help that he was born on Earth; Anna, a Methodist pastor and member of a contingent of religious leaders headed out towards the ring; and Melba, the alias of Clarissa Mao, who is obsessed with destroying Holden the same way he destroyed her father.

I could give you a run down on all the political and plot stuff, but Bull says it much simpler that I ever could:

“We’re heading out to throw gang signs at Earth and Mars while the Ring does a bunch of scary alien mystery stuff. . . .  worst that can happen is we’ll all die.”

One of the many things I enjoy about this series is how our culture has changed as we’ve moved out into the solar system. We’ve moved past Earthly racism and nationalism, no one cares about skin color or hair texture.  Xenophobia and distrust of the “other” hasn’t gone away though, and there’s no hiding where you were born. Are you an original Earther, awkward in zero g, but with old fashioned human proportions? Or maybe you were born somewhere with higher gravity, keeping you shorter, but far more muscular. And then there those who were born and grew up in minimal gravity out in the asteroid belt, long limbed and graceful as a ballerina in zero gravity.  You can’t hide or change what gravity has done to your body, and it’s amazing how a change in gravity brings out the best and worst in people.

Probes and one very stupid pilot have shown that the laws of physics are different on the other side of the Ring. No need for an Epstein engine, as there’s a speed limit over there. Ships can not chase each other or blast torpedoes at one another. Dependence on fast ships and faster weapons are no longer an advantage.  And there’s something else on the other side of the Ring, and so far it’s only interested in speaking to Jim Holden.

Abaddon’s Gate delivers everything fans of the Expanse series have come to expect – exquisite action scenes, huge spaceships and distances, ambitious and intricate plotting, main characters with robust and hidden depths, and some fucking terrifying alien technologies.   And I loved the first half of the book to death. But by the time I got to the second half of the book, when the action gets going in even a more frenetic pace, I was practically exhausted. Even Holden runs out of energy at his third or fourth last stand.

The Expanse series is one of the best things to happen to science fiction in the last five years, which makes it physically painful to say that Abaddon’s Gate didn’t grab me as much as the earlier novels in the series did. Yes, there was plenty of suspense and alien tech mystery and laser weapon fights in vacuum. I continue to adore Holden and Naomi, but the new characters just didn’t do it for me. I’ll never forget Avasarala or Prax.  the strongest new character for me was Bull, I felt we got to know him the best and I appreciated the view he offered into the hodge  podge workings of the OPA. Clarissa jumped back and forth from adrenaline pumped amateur terrorist to scared little girl as it suits the plot, she was forgettable. Anna, I just found annoying after a while. Didn’t help Anna’s case with me that while her solution did prove necessary, I felt it didn’t jive with the feeling of everything that came before. The climax just wasn’t there for me.

Nitpics aside, I’ll never stop recommending this series to anyone who expresses the slightest interest in science fiction. I can only hope  that the authors behind James S.A. Corey have more they want to tell me.

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8 Responses to "Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey"

Hmm. Once again, I am the dissenting voice. :p Not sure why I enjoyed this more than the others, but there we have it. I also liked Anna a great deal, if only because she is subversive.

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a lot of other reviewers liked this 3rd one best. and what’s not to enjoy in this one? we got to find out what the hell was actually going on, there was some brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey stuff happening. I hate that there were parts that didn’t do it for me.

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I didn’t read your review because I’m currently reading the book. I just got it from the library but I love this series. I’m like you, I always recommend this series to people who are interested in SF. It’s great in that respect.

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Totally agree with you! Thought this was the weakest of the three Expanse books, but it’s still some great sci-fi fun.

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I also liked this one best. In fact, I wish this book was the first in the series, rather than the last.

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but if it had been the first one. . . the story would have been over really quick. LOL! I liked all the set up we got in the previous books.

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I picked up the second book, after loving LEVIATHAN but only made it about 15 pages. I know it was a matter of wrong mood-time-place-weather, not a problem with the book, so I’ll pick it back up fairly soon. I guess I just didn’t want to start a doorstop, as I’ve been reading shorter books and enjoying them. I’d planned to read both CALIBAN and this one this summer, but doubt now it will happen. Later, though…

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that’s been happening to me a lot lately, I’ll pick someone up and half hour later realize I am just NOT in the mood for whatever it is. go back to it 6 months later, and do just fine.

I too have been yearning for shorter fiction lately. must be all the audio shorts I’ve been listening to and novellas I’ve been reading! what? you want me to read 600 pages? whatev!

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