24 November 2013

Books: Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey (2013)

"For generations, the solar system -Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt- was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them."

The biggest problem I had with Abaddon’s Gate, the third book in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, was how dull half the book was. While the authors continue to widen the franchise beyond the main character’s, introducing new ones with other perspectives on the ongoing issue with the protomolecule, but the action is slow and lots pages go by where nothing really important goes on, just a bunch of people talking and making leaps of logic that seem surprising. 

New characters like Anna were annoying (religion does get the short-shift in science fiction, it’s either not there or it’s usually just a group of extremist. And while it’s nice to see it presented in a somewhat even tone, the authors seem to be afraid to make them interesting then), and Clarissa, a women Hell-bent for revenge on Holden and his crew, is too much mustache twirling villain to be anything but dull. And the fact that towards the end her hatred vacillates back to sort of understanding the situation going on if the military –led by an even more scenery chewing military idiot named Ashford- destroys the Ring –the latest metamorphous of the protomolecule . It makes her forgettable, sadly. 

Meanwhile, I could not help but feel that this series is really Star Trek –if Star Trek did hard core science fiction and not made Earth and its surrounding planets a fascist utopia. In this series humans have moved past Earthly racism such as skin color, sexual orientation and other minor things, just like Star Trek, but xenophobia and distrust of others –the Martians, the ‘Belters and whatever the protomolecule really represents- has not gone away. So it does one up Trek there. But while we get glimpses into the origin of the protomolecule, whatever is truly behind them is still not fully revealed. They use, like the Wormholes aliens featured in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, dead detective Miller to give out sometimes useful, but always cloaked in hazy gauze, information (and the gateway to this "starless dark" is DS9's wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant). Thus I feel the authors painted themselves into a corner and used the only tool they could, the deus ex machina, to resolve the ending. 

But, surprisingly, I do like the series as a whole so far. So while I may nitpick some stuff, I did enjoy the first two books. So the third was not as good, but doesn’t take away from what the authors are trying to do. And with at least three more volumes to come (and a potential TV series), I’ll just say that I’m curious where the series will go from here.

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