For the most part, Cibola Burn –the fourth volume in the Expanse series- the book plays out like America’s Manifest Destiny where hardy folks from generations long past ventured from the safe confines of the East Coast and went west young man into great unknown.
Set a few years after the last volume, Abaddon’s Gate, the solar system we currently know has now been opened by whatever created the protomolecule (which, through each successive novel, has becomes more and more of a Macguffin) and through those gates lies thousands of habitable planets, and, like a better and uglier version of Far and Away, a land rush has begun.
Much like the settlers of that bygone era, some have taken up residence that others have claimed as theirs. The future political version of the UN, its charter and its security claim one planet in particular as theirs and have sent a security team (who are outnumbered by the scientist assigned to explore this new world) to get the settler’s or squatters off the planet. But violence has already claimed lives -both sides will stop at nothing to defend what they believe is theirs, so to prevent any escalation, OPA and the UN agree to send James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to keep the peace.
Of course, things don’t go as plan. Things go from bad to worse rather quickly, or as Holden wryly puts it “apocalyptic explosions, dead reactors, terrorists, mass murder, death slugs, and now a blindness plague. This is a terrible planet. We should not have come here.”
And then there is the ghostly Detective Miller who needs Holden to travel to place where some answers may lay. The problem is it may kill them all.
I liked this volume much more than the last two. Yeah, it’s a slow start (Holden & crew take their sweet time appearing), but the then it starts to really pick up. The authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, have a great grasp on the science, and they borrow heavily from Western movies and TV series motifs (and, at times, I felt I was reading a lost script from Joss Whedon’s Firefly show) but the reader can’t help but notice the love they have for Captain Jim Holden. He’s like Han Solo or even Malcom Reynolds from that late Whedon series, or most of characters John Wayne ever played, Holden has the unique ability to keep a sense of perspective when all hell is breaking loose around him. And like those heroes of yesteryear, he doesn’t even realize he doing it.
And for fans of space opera, this series really delivers (even if, at times, the villains are a bit cartoon like) as readers, who might feel the premise will lead to a lot of talking that diplomatic missions seem to do on TV shows like Star Trek, at least here we get chases, explosions, rescues, explosions, gun play, death-slugs and a lot of stuff getting blown up.
This may not be the same science fiction we grew up on, but since this series of books is already heading to TV as series, it fits perfectly for the fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (and in which the two authors are his assistants), in which this seems molded on. A lot of violence, quirky, snarky characters with more spaceships than horses.