Series: The Expanse #4
Publisher: Orbit Books
Released: June 17, 2014
The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity's home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.
But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what's theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden - with help from the ghostly Detective Miller - can find the cure.
I’ve really come to enjoy the universe in which the Expanse books take place, and the main characters from the previous books have really grown on me. Then along comes this book, Cibola Burn, which takes place half a galaxy away from the universe I’ve come to know and love, and where the characters I’ve come to know and love aren’t even the main characters for most of the story.
And it works. It works really well.
This book is very different from the first two books of the series, but really brings back the elements that I loved so much from the first two books, that I felt the third book lacked. The first two books are really great stories about interplanetary politics, and how extreme, unexpected events affect them. This book takes it back down to a micro-level. Not only are we on a single planet, but we’re on a single city on that planet, which also happens to be the only city on the planet. Settlers have made a start at establishing themselves on a this brand new, hereto unexplored livable earth-like space, but then a UN-sanctioned science team comes along to start exploring the planet, and… well… there is some friction. And to top it off the planet itself may not be what the planet appears to be.
The story in the book takes place far from everything, and the feeling of almost absolute isolation is very effective. In stories with conflict there is usually some cavalry that can save the day, some reinforcements that can change the state of play. In this story the possibility of outside intervention is completely removed from the equation, and this adds an extra nerve to everything that happens. The board has all the pieces it’s ever going to have, now there is only the question of how they’ll move around. And how many of them will be left standing.
Most of this story takes place on the planet, and that’s definitely when it’s at its best. Once we witness the events taking place back out in space, things start feeling like an ordinary space-story. The action-in-space scenes, while they aren’t by any means bad, kind of jars with the relatively slow-moving, tense and thrilling mood that drives the rest of the book along. The main antagonist of the book is also way more antagonistic than what I felt was called for, and one particular “we inevitably need to get this character from A to B”-type character-arc felt rushed. But none of these annoyances were annoying enough to have a significant impact on my enjoyment of the book as a whole.
Despite being a story which is almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the Expanse universe, the implications of how this story turns out looks like they might have a dramatic impact on the situation closer to home. That, along with some really interesting developments in the underlying plot that spans across these books, really leaves me wanting more. Fortunately there are another three books just sitting there, waiting to be read!