“The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them. James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.”
I generally enjoy this series of books by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), because it’s pure escapism and, at times, fun. The real science of space travel (and the magical realities created by the Star Trek and Star Wars franchise and other space operas become more evident) sometimes is difficult to slog through, but I enjoy the characters of the Rocinante because they’re three-dimensional. But the problem this book series has had is the villains are generally weak, mostly one-dimensional mustache twirlers. That includes Marcos Inaros, who appears to be a surrogate for a certain presidential-elect and comes across as a narcissistic sociopath who gained his power by convincing a lot of people that all their problems can be blamed on others. True, some with in his inner circle come to the conclusion that while the ‘Belters need representation between Earth, Mars, and the gates created by the protomolecule, Inaros is not the leader to make this happen, and break away, but it’s surprising (though maybe not) that many still follow him. Of course, like any good self-important leader, controlling the narrative is paramount. But maybe the point that the authors are trying to make is that not all bad guys are evil –they just do horrible things in pursuant of their goals.
Meanwhile, as a general rule, what this series does well is having a self-contained story that concentrates on the human element rather than the alien. So while the last book went very dark with Inaros’ near destruction of Earth, with Babylon’s Ashes deals with the fallout –though indirectly. Most of the book delves much into what it is best at: political intrigue, military strategy, and the fight for survival in space –though it could also be an allegory for those struggling on Earth.
Also, this sixth volume in The Expanse series sort of feels like a conclusion to an arc and there is some obvious foreshadowing for future volumes. And while the protomolecule continues to be the series McGuffin, I do wonder if we’ll get any explanation of whom or what sent it to the sol system. While I’m sure the writers can come up a number of storylines that are analogies, metaphors, and parables to our modern life that can fill numerous other volumes, I wonder if we’ll still be here to read them once America’s new thinned skinned, self-important president is installed on January 20th?