Series: The Expanse #2
Publisher: Orbit Books
Released: June 26, 2012
We are not alone.
On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.
In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun . . .
Caliban's War is a breakneck science fiction adventure following the critically acclaimed Leviathan Wakes.
Caliban’s War is a great book. It has some flaws that might usually have annoyed me, but despite them I just couldn’t help being thoroughly won over. I found it very enjoyable. It’s the second of the main novels in the Expanse series, and the politically charged war-story set in space (which I assume is referred to as “sci-fi” for the sake of simplicity) continues. In this book the politics of the story get escalated to a globa… ehm, inter-planetary level, and, as with the first book, the political part of the book never gets confusing despite a refreshing lack of exposition. The first book did this as well, and, as with the first book, I find it to be really impressive from a story-telling point of view.
With one of the main characters in this book being a high-ranking politician, a lot of pot-shots are taken at the way politics are played out, and the absurdity it can descend into at times. The shots at politicians and the way they operate are so obvious and in your face that it occasionally borders on annoying, turning what could have been good satire into more of a comical parody. This doesn’t detract from the story, but in a book centred this much around politics it felt lazier than it needed to be, and I think it could have added to the story if it took the politicians as seriously as it takes the politics.
And, to get my other complaint out of the way, there is still the now recurring problem of some major characters (Alex and Naomi in particular) essentially being extras that do and say whatever needs to be done or said to drive the story forward. In a story where the characters are otherwise so well fleshed out, and where the development of those characters play such a large part in the story, the underdeveloped characters stick out like sore thumbs. In future books in the series I hope and expect these characters to become more well-rounded, but it better happen soon.
That said, despite those annoyances, this really is a terrific book. The pacing is different from the first book, a little slower, but it didn’t bother me. The book is written in a really charming way, and I just couldn’t help but love all the characters. They are flawed, in some cases very flawed, but their actions always make sense from their point of view, and I always had a very good sense of what all the characters main characters were thinking. The way such a broad spectrum of politics, feeling, and context are smuggled into the head of the reader is so subtle, feels so effortless, but works so well. It’s just really brilliant story-telling and it’s a joy to read.
I also had the realisation during this book that it makes space-travel cool in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Rather than the typical “they flew through space to get to where they needed to be”, this story goes relatively deep into the technicalities behind space-travel, tackling, explaining, and expanding on some things that could easily, and conveniently, have been ignored, but it does it in a way which not only pleases me as a geek, but also makes it a natural and, again, effortless part of the story.
Caliban’s War is a great story told in a brilliant way, and being two books into the Expanse-series I’d comfortably recommend the series to anyone. The story is complex, at times thought-provoking, but still jumps off the page and practically reads itself. But the best part is that I still think it can get better. I’m not complaining by any means, and if the rest of the books stay as good as this one I’ll be thrilled, but there is space there for an extra gear, and it would be really fun to see it kick in.