James S.A. Corey’s best-selling hit Leviathan Wakes earned Hugo and Locus Award nominations. In Caliban’s War, the second chapter of Corey’s Expanse series, a desperate Earth politician works tirelessly to prevent war from reigniting. Meanwhile, upheaval takes root on Venus and Ganymede. And amidst this tumult, James Holden and his crew on the Rocinante are charged with the impossible task of saving humanity from a terrifying fate.
©2012 Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (P)2012 Recorded Books
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
Leviathan Wakes was a really solid example of modern hard SF space opera - Caliban's War is better. Corey (actually two authors, but they generally do a good job of writing as a team) pays attention to the nice hard SF details (ship acceleration, radiation exposure, transit times between Jovian moons, etc.), but the love is clearly for the opera part of space opera. The main set of characters are a winning team that excel at narrow escapes and being at the right place at the right time, while engaging in both banter and emotional asides. And, even though the book takes time to develop the emotional states of the characters, plot elements zip along, tension is ratcheted ever upward as chapters quickly switch from viewpoint to viewpoint (and maybe author to author).
The new main characters are less blue collar than the first book, but also more well-written and unexpected - this is the first SF novel I have read with a foulmouthed 72 year old Indian grandmother, let alone one where that foulmouthed grandmother is genuinely intimidating. Similarly, the writing has improved, with less awkward passages and some genuinely moving descriptions. Reading is very solid, with accents being handled without too much exaggeration.
If you liked the first novel, this is a no-brainer. If you like Peter Hamilton-style space opera, this is also a clear winner. There is a lot of questions still to answer in the final book, but I am clearly along for the ride.
The duo of authors that are "James S. A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) continue their excellent space opera with Caliban's War, which picks up shortly after the events of Leviathan Wakes. The solar system is still a powder keg waiting to explode and James Holden & crew once again find themselves in the thick of it. Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets still don't get along and the threat of the Protomolecule on Venus only divides the factions further.
Jefferson Mays does another excellent narration so if you listened to the first book then you will feel like you are back among old friends. Amos is as entertaining as ever, and some new favorites are introduced including Avasarala, a sharp-tongued earth politician, and Roberta Draper, a career Martian Soldier who finds herself unsure which side she is on in the brewing war. Although it takes a little while to come up to speed on the new characters it all comes together nicely before the end.
If you haven't listened to the first book then I would highly recommend you do so before starting on this one. This book is as good as the first and the ending will leave you eager to find out what happens next so it makes for an excellent middle book of a trilogy.
While I loved the first novel in the series, it did have its slow bits. This, though, exceeded the first in every way. I couldn't put it down - it's fast paced yet suspenseful. I already loved the setting, and this book gives a lot more development to the inner planets. All the new major characters are great, but Jefferson Mays's performance of Avasarala blew me away - I found myself looking forward to her generally slower-moving chapters just for his performance of the foul-mouthed Indian grandmother/diplomat.
If you're insisting on treating it with more scrutiny than you would a thriller in any other genre, you'll notice a few contrivances - even noticing them, though, these aren't enough to have detracted from my enjoyment of the novel.
5 stars from me, and I'm eagerly awaiting the conclusion (though I'd be happy to see the series, or at least the setting, outlast a trilogy).
Caliban's War is less a sequel; rather simply the next installment in Corey's Expanse series. Many "volume 2" entries suffer from a both a letdown in intensity relative to the 1st as well as too much time and effort devoted to explaining the science and philosophical orientation of the particular universe. Fortunately Caliban's War is not plagued with either. Corey has managed to up his game with a compelling and engaging 2nd act while adding depth and granularity to many of the recurring characters. In this installment, Ganymede, food production capacity for the Belters and Outer Planets becomes the source of an Earth / Mars shooting incident with evidence (that no one wants to believe) of an evolved proto-molecule. With open solar system wide warfare hanging in the balance, James Holden enters the fray and ends up searching for a kidnapped little girl with a genetic immune disorder. Along the way, a Martian marine Amazon and a potty mouth grandmother eventually join up with Holden to pound some sense into the rest of solar system.
In Leviathan Wakes, Corey told the tale from the viewpoints of Holden and Miller. This time around, there are more viewpoints, including a martian, a botanist, and UN official. Corey also provides more background on the main characters including Holden, Naomi, and Amos that is both revealing and adds depth to the characters. Geopolitics as well as governmental gamesmanship are prominent and well executed. All the while, Venus continues to threaten menacingly. At the very end, Corey gives a nod to 2001 that provides a clue as to the nature of the next installment.
The narration is excellent with a great range of voices, very much appreciated due to the expanded cast and personal viewpoints offered.
I read the first book in this series, "Leviathan Wakes," on Kindle so I was excited to hear an audio treatment of the second. The performance is solid, if unremarkable. Mr. Mays uses several accents for some of the characters, but does not fall into the trap of gross exaggeration the way many audio narrators often do. I'd say his best character is Avisarila, who is also my favorite character in the book.
But onto the parts that actually matter! This series, so far, has been a truly refreshing experience in sci fi for me. None of the concepts presented in The Expanse are mind-blowing for anyone who's read even a smattering of sci fi. As a disciple of Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen Baxter, and Alastair Reynolds, I love hard sci fi that relies on actual scientific concepts and their extrapolation, speculation, and application into a fictional world. However, these authors, and many others, can be a bit hard to get into and aren't necessarily the greatest storytellers or character-builders; this is a common complaint of the genre. Happily, The Expanse strikes a wonderful balance between these two ideas: you get to have your hard sci fi cake, and eat it too. These novels are crowd-pleasers, full of big setpieces and cinematic-style cliffhangers, red herrings and fake outs. Yet, they pay at least lip service to believable science. Things like g-forces and acceleration are major issues in space flight, as is radiation. Ships behave in a realistic fashion; battles are fought at great distances with sweating crew members watching the proceedings on computer screens. Accessible is the word I would use to sum up this series. Even a non-sci fi geek can find something to enjoy about them.
This book in particular is an improvement over Leviathan Wakes. In that book, we only had two "viewpoint" characters (Corey, who is in reality two men, one of whom is a student of George RR Martin's, uses a chapter structure very similar to his mentor's). In Caliban's War, we have four. This gives the story more breadth as well as depth. We see, for the first time, what Earth is like in this universe, where we had only had hints in the previous book. Hint: not that great. We also are brought along on a father's hopeless, desperate search for his missing daughter, as well as a battle-scarred marine's fight to regain her sense of herself. My favorite new character, as mentioned above, is the potty-mouthed, tea-drinking Indian grandmother Avisarila, who is a major "behind the scenes" player in the politics of Earth. Fantastic character, who completely subverts expectations. Finally there's Holden, the main character from the first book. Ironically, he is my least favorite character in the series, even though he is clearly intended to be the main protagonist. I find him to be bland, predictable, and cliched. Fortunately, he is surrounded by a crew of memorable outcasts that bring to mind characters out of Firefly.
The story raises the stakes set up in the first book, and we see a lot more of the political dealings going on in the solar system and how those in power are reacting to the protomolecule. The villains are still not terribly fleshed out, and are a little cliche, but there are enough loose ends left that you're not really sure of anything by the book's end. And speaking of endings, there's a bit of a surprise waiting for you there. To say anymore would spoil it, but you might see it coming if you read the first book closely. I was pleased, to say the least.
Overall, this is fantastically well-written sci fi. Not necessarily mold-breaking in terms of its originality but certainly original in how it presents many tired tropes in a breathless, always-moving-forward momentum that reads more like a movie than a book. All while giving us sci fi geeks the sciency goodness we crave. "Mr. Corey" studied from one of the modern masters of speculative fiction, George RR Martin, and The Grey Bearded Glacier's influence is all over these books. Happily, Corey seems to be able to actually finish what "he" sets out to do, so perhaps we'll see an end to this series in the near future. Hopefully that's a long way off, though, because right now, it's too good to stop.
With excellent narration melded to a fantastic, unique, and multi-layered storyline, this was one of my favorite reads in a long time. Real characters that adapt and grow within the narrative, just enough technology to keep eyebrows level, and an emotional throughline that engages from the beginning and builds on the preceding book, these guys know how to tell a story, and Jefferson Mays knows how to narrate it.
You will NOT be disappointed spending a credit on this excellent sci-fi experience. Easily one of the best sci-fi I've listened to or read all year.
Geological engineer and unabashed science fiction nut.
This book is worth the listen purely for Jefferson Mays' reading of Avisarila, the aging Indian politician grandma who curses like a sailor. Add in more starship battles, evil alien plots, political intrigue and the search for a little lost girl, and it's popcorn sci-fi at its best.
While the first book swapped perspectives between two key characters, this book covers four perspectives, more widely variant. The way the stories are woven together keeps the book moving along while more convincingly delving into the ethics and motivations of each character.
Also mad props to Corey for writing convincing, engaging female characters, something I've found sorely lacking in many other sci-fi authors like Alastair Reynolds or Orson Scott Card. Gone is the cheesy manic-pixie-dream-girl-in-his-head from the first book of the series, and in her place there's a gigantic kickass curvaceous Polynesian marine wearing mechanized body armor. Yes please!
I'm eager for the next installment!
Avasarala is a marvelous character. Evey time she shows up, interest level soars.
Mays's characterization of Avasarala is one of the best performances available at Audible. (I've listened to many, and not just SF.) Understated, but powerful.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I divide science fiction into two basic (but not totally separate) categories: books that are more about speculation and cerebral ideas, and books that are more about entertaining you. The Expanse series, of which this is the second entry, falls firmly into the latter camp. Don’t look for writing that’s much more than workmanlike or characters colored much outside the usual “type” lines, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable get-through-the-commute series, with brisk action, well-imagined mechanisms/spaceships/stations, and some humor.
The setting is a middle-future in which humanity has spread out from an overpopulated/overtaxed Earth to colonies elsewhere in the solar system, with Mars being its own independent world. As in the first book, there's an alien virus/monster on the loose, sought as a weapon by some parties, but also having an unknown agenda programmed by the original creators millions of years ago. By itself, this would be a pretty rote idea, but the authors mix in enough space combat and political thriller elements to keep the story from becoming flat.
If you were a fan of that Leviathan Wakes, you’ll probably enjoy this outing just as much. The authors add a few new characters, who are a touch more original than the old crew. There's Bobbie, the plus-sized female marine, who's tough without being too much of a caricature. And I had fun with the chapters devoted to Avisarala, the shrewd, foul-mouthed Indian grandmother who's the undersecretary of the UN (which seems to be the primary governing body of Earth now). Though I've played too many computer games to find the monsters interesting, the authors seem to have put some thought into the science aspects of the story. There's plenty of nuts-and-bolts stuff about acceleration, airlocks, moving around in low gravity, and so on. Jefferson Mays, the audiobook narrator, is a capable reader and does an especially good job with Avisarala (cover your kids' ears).
In sum: I liked it. I’ll probably read the next book in the series.
Caliban's War is even better than its predecessor, Leviathan Wakes. The writing and story are more involved and assured. Its nice to see Corey getting better and better as an author.
However... In my mind... Corey has a need to make his works too epic. They become too much like a comic book super hero saving the day against impossible odds stories.
Still very worth listening too. I love this author. Just wish he would tone down the scale a little.
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