Thursday, May 12, 2016

James S.A. Corey's ABADDON'S GATE

The Expanse series almost lost me with this one, guys. It took me a whole lot of false starts to get into Abaddon's Gate, the series' third novel, and it was only partly because of the very strong feeling I had from page one that I'd already read a superior version of it written by Alastair Reynolds and intermixed with a lot of other, cooler stuff in the three-and-a-sidequel Revelation Space series.

But the book does have its own charms that eventually became evident to me.

Abaddon's Gate is pretty much just a giant thought experiment in zero gravity combat-and-movement-and-injury-and-recovery-and-pain, wrapped up in a bog standard battle-for-a-territory-in-a-confined-space plot only somewhat enlivened by the circumstances under which said combat and battle are taking place, which, maybe I'll get to that, but I don't want to be too spoilery.

But so, Abaddon's Gate. The title, like its predecessors, is all kinds of highbrow, here referring to a place of ultimate destruction and dread which the protomolecule that wrecked everything in the first two novels has created outside the orbit of Uranus and which the puny humans have taken to calling The Ring. It's enormous, it's mysterious, humanity's first contact with it ends spectacularly badly, and it appears to have reanimated a beloved* character from Leviathan Wakes in order to reach out to a slightly less beloved* but still conventionally animate star of both Leviathan and Caliban's War and issue via him a warning: All these worlds are yours except Europa Leave the Ring alone and don't piss it off.

But of course, nobody's interested in this message or its import, and for plot reasons, all our characters old and new wind up heading out to poke at the Ring and I'm bored just typing this much synopsis. But then A THING HAPPENS, and the giant thought experiment in what happens to bodies when various high-powered forces interact with them way the hell out beyond Uranus and the next couple of hundred pages are gruesome and sad (because there are, again, some wonderful characters thrown into this mess; Naomi and Amos and Alex [and yeah, yeah, Holden] from the first novel and new favorites Anna [a Methodist minister who's part of a religious expedition to explore the Meaning of the Ring] and Bull [second in command of the Outer Planets Alliance's jerry-rigged and recommissioned giant mother of a spaceship, Behemoth, which was originally built to be a generation ship to take a colony of Mormons to settle another solar system before being repurposed into a military, well, behemoth]) and tense as everybody struggles to deal with the aftermath of the THING THAT HAPPENED and the things that are probably inevitably going to happen now (the stakes wind up being no less than the survival of the entire Solar System and all of humanity with it) unless the ragtag fleet of affected people can somehow pull together, stop fighting, and do what they're supposed to do according to what Holden kind of thinks is what the reanimated Miller was kind of trying to tell him...?

Which, of course, is not easy, because the survivors of the THING THAT HAPPENED are about equally divided (apparently) between heroes and assholes, and the assholes have a whole other wrong plan for how to deal with the Ring and are willing to kill to implement it, which means lots and lots of zero gravity combat in the confines of the Behemoth. Which means that when the TV show gets to this bit, it might well wind up being a whole season's worth of Bottle Episode (OR will manage to compress all of this text into just a couple of Bottle Episodes) but hey, the special effects guys will really get to go to town making all these floating globules of blood and tissue rotating and coming together to form little planets of gore and whatnot in addition to all of the impressive zero gee effects they've already hit us with, so you know, I'm down.

I say that again, I'm down. Because so far this is looking like I didn't like the book, but I actually did. Especially I admire Abaddon's Gate from a technical standpoint: the thought experiment is brilliant, brilliantly presented, and brilliantly evocative of all of the challenges that await us in space even if there aren't ancient and powerful and inimical civilizations waiting to turn us into goo. Space, as we're reminded every time one of our sad little efforts to lift a cargo out of our gravity well goes wrong, is hard. It's gonna get harder. It might still prove impossible. But I choose to believe it is possible and that someday we'll prove it. And so books like this one are super important and exciting even as they're also gross and depressing.

I'm especially down to explore this with these characters; I love the truly diverse range of people that populate this literary universe. Not just racially, not just gravitationally, but also representative of a broad range of callings. How many sci-fi franchises give a significant role to a preacher out in the black? This one and Firefly (sort of; Book could have stood a lot more screen time and we just have to take it on faith [hee] that he was going to get it later on) and... uh...? And Anna doesn't play her role by dropping her bible and picking up a gun; from start to finish, she is what she is, she works how she works, and it winds up mattering quite a lot that she's out there at the Ring. I really, really dig that, just as last novel I dug the two-woman punch of Bobbie and Chrisjen. Hooray for fantastic characters!

But man, I was glad to finish this one so I could move on to other things. So many other things, you guys. Like, I probably have to start all over again on the Doctor Who novel I was reading when I also picked up this book. And stuff.

Speaking of which, there's a second episode of Thrawn and On and On for your listening pleasure. Make with the clicky and explore the Star Wars Explengendary Universe with us!

*These are, of course, in my humble opinion, your mileage may vary, blah blah blah. I loved Miller and I tolerate Holden because he has cool friends.