Wednesday, March 15, 2017

James S.A. Corey's NEMESIS GAMES

While the planetary adventure on Ilus kept Cibola Burn interesting and lively and was a logical expansion (heh) of the overall storyline of James S.A. Corey's series, it also all but fridged Naomi and, to a lesser degree, Alex, while Amos was mostly relegated to being Holden's smarter-than-he-looks-but-still-basically-a-thug thug, and so left this reader a teeny bit dissatisfied when the dust had settled.

And while the return to the confines of our own solar system might make Nemesis Games seem like it's backing off from the bigness of the Expanse's story, it also brought a welcome focus back to the characters we've traveled through four novels with: the crew of the Rocinante, Avasarala and Fred Johnson. But really, it's the Rocinante Four who shine here. And it's about damned time.

Having barely made it back to Tycho to get their beloved gunship repaired, the crew now look to be stuck for a while; it's going to be a good six months before the Rocinante flies again. A nice and well-deserved rest is great and all, but it doesn't make for much of a story -- or a life for people who are used to being on the move and at the center of system-spanning events. Which is to say that they get bored with hanging around the space station and so...

They split up.

Ordinarily, this would annoy me, because generally when the crew has broken up it's become the Holden show with the rest of the crew just sort of appearing here and there as supporting characters. But not this time; this time all four crew members get to be the central figure in their own stories, all of which are exciting, challenging and at times heartbreaking. We see their resourcefulness, learn more about their backgrounds, and while each of them quickly comes to regret their decisions to leave Tycho for a spell, we, the readers, most certainly do not.

The novel still manages to explore the consequences of what has gone on before -- the opening up of the rest of the galaxy or universe to human exploration and colonization via the protomolecular Gate -- as the "land rush" commences. Mars threatens to become a ghost planet. Earth might have to struggle with being the seat of an ever-larger empire (or give up on hegemony). And as for the Belters, well, who's going to need them? There are thousands of habitable exoplanets within reach now, with all the resources humanity could want for centuries to come. Who needs a bunch of malcontents, barely adapted to life in space (just enough to make life down a gravity well pretty much impossible for them), who only know how to live in tin cans, mine asteroids, keep junky spaceships flying, and carefully husband resources that are no longer scarce?

What population like that has ever gone down without a fight, though? Look at our current political situation in the U.S. (and, increasingly, elsewhere): superfluous labor, unwilling to be sidelined and forgotten, has lashed out and is (yes, along with misguided Christian fundamentalists and short-sighted plutocrats) largely responsible for putting a terrifyingly incompetent narcissist in control of the nuclear football.

So, too, the Expanse. The Belters aren't going to take things lying down, and they have a handsome, charismatic, possibly Alexander-caliber leader in (eyeroll) Naomi's ex-lover Marco, who unleashes about ten different kinds of hell and devastation on the Inner Planets (Earth & Mars) and on the legacy power center of the Outer Planets Alliance (Fred Johnson and Tycho -- and the Nauvoo Behemoth Medina Station. Except... He's really kind of a self-appointed leader. Those in his personal orbit of course follow him gladly because hello, but the rest of the Belt? Was everybody down for the kind of massive attack he and his coterie unleash here? It's a question not really addressed in this book, which is concerned chiefly with the buildup to this attack and the experiences of the Rocinantes in trying to reunite, but I'm really hoping this doesn't get dropped the way the "Mormons are going to be pissed" got dropped when their generation ship was appropriated to try and redirect Eros way back when, IYKWIM.

But anyway, our heroes once again manage to find themselves at the centers of all of these plots in some fashion, though some more than others. Amos just gets an escape plot but Naomi and Alex both wind up playing crucial roles in the unfolding disasters and humanity's response to them, and well, of course Holden and Fred and Avarasala do. I'm done fussing over the unlikelihood of this same small group of people always winding up with the fate of human space in their hands, though. I just give up. It shouldn't be allowed to spoil my enjoyment of these very enjoyable books. And stuff.

I might pause for a while before picking up the current last novel in the series, Babylon's Ashes, though. I'm not ready for the experience of having to wait for more. This way I can pretend I'm somewhat in control, you know?