In Nemesis Games, the fifth volume of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey, we see the series adding a new wrinkle in the ever growing feud between Earth, Mars and the 'Belters. And by it's end, everything has changed and the reader is left wondering what's to come next. One of the striking changes in this novel is how Corey (pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) changes the narrative style that he's has used in the other books; the host of voices of multiple characters that propel the story have been set aside and this time he uses just the four main ones: James Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos. And for the first time, as well, we get backstories on them, which was cool and interesting.
We start some months after the events of Cibola Burns where the protomolocule's gate had open its eye to countless new worlds for humanity to expand. But a mystery is unfolding as ships heading through the gate are vanishing, but the crew of the Rocinante are spread out across the solar system as their ship is being repaired. Alex returns to Mars to reconnect with family, while Amos returns to Earth to pay his respects to an old friend. Meanwhile, Naomi is called back to her own roots within the belt, only to discover her past is rushing to her, and Holden is recruited by OPA leader Fred Johnson to investigate the disappearances of the ships leaving.
But a faction of Belter OPA folks, tired of the political games and who sees their power slipping away -with the gate offering new worlds, Mars terraforming project is threatened and the Belters are seeing their source of supplies and resources going with those ships- launches a devastating attack on Earth and Mars. This brazen action plunges the solar system into chaos, but who is really behind this shift? Who will survive, who will pay the ultimate price?
I did not realize how long overdue the backstories of the characters were needed. Alex, Amos, and Naomi have complicated lives, and getting to know them better was a smart move. And much like the previous four books, and much like what science fiction has done in the past, the writers overlay today's problems into their future world, adding another layer of political strife. The Belters have always felt like they've risked so much (and they have) for both Mars and Earth and have seen little or none of the rewards because we see many who overlook the human cost that comes with moving out amongst the stars. Yes, money is still the driving factor. While currents of racism and economic inequality have always been the undercurrents of this series since it began, in Nemesis Games we see what happens when radicalized men and women lash out with devastating results -the near destruction of Earth (woohoo, its all post-apocalyptic now) and attempted assassination of Mars and Luna's political leaders.
After the Earth attack, I will admit, it was hard for me to now see OPA -or the radical faction of it- could have any redeeming aspects. Sure, Fred Johnson is less an antagonist than in the past (sort of the same way Star Trek: DS9 tried to give the appearance that Gul Dukat had some humanity), but the violent, terrorist act of Marcos Inaros and his fellow Belters indicates that at least the authors realized that series might be getting predictable and gave the readers a choice to contemplate -are they "freedom fighters" throwing off the chains of oppression, or are they just another degree of terrorist whom brought the Twin Towers done?
I do enjoy these books, and it'll be interesting to see how well they translate to the TV screen when the cable net Syfy brings us the first 10 episode season later this year. The trailer looks cool, but it is Syfy. So who knows?