August 20, 2019

Review: Cibola Burn

Cibola Burn Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book in preparation for the upcoming fourth season of The Expanse on Amazon Prime, and my first reaction was, "I hope the special effects are up to the task." We're going to see some amazing stuff, if Amazon gets it right.

Having said that, the new viewpoint characters were...not that great, and after a while I started to resent so much time being spent in the heads of Elvi, Basia and Havelock. Havelock was the most interesting of the three, and I'd much rather have seen him through the eyes of Naomi Nagata than the reverse. (In fact, I'd much rather this story have been told in its entirety through the POVs of our Fab Four: Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex. Apparently the next book will remedy this situation.) Basia was just okay, and Elvi was...quite a letdown after the likes of Chrisjen and Bobbie. This was even more apparent in the epilogue, which drove home how much the story suffered from featuring neither character.

However, this lack was made up for to an extent by the sheer scale of the story and the action scenes. The Expanse, while not exactly a strict hard SF series, has always paid more attention to the actual physics than many. Don't get me wrong, it's still space opera, but at least it acknowledges the hard limits of orbital mechanics (without wasting paragraphs and pages on the nitty gritty details as some do) and the mind-boggling immensity of space. (For example, even with their super-duper Epstein drive, the Rocinante still takes months to reach New Terra after going through the Ring, and a rescue mission from Earth to the planet would take seven months to reach them at maximum burn, by which time everyone would have starved.) We also have the awakening of the two-billion-year-old Ringmakers' civilization buried under New Terra's surface, which again I can't wait to see on Amazon Prime. But in contrast to all this spectacle is the very human element of the story, which was emphasized in the last episode of season 3 of the TV series, and which I expect the writers will pick up on in season 4. That is, the fights and rivalries and pettiness of the human race, exemplified in the essential conflict between the Earthers and Belters, dragged out beyond our solar system and onto all those brand-new planets the Ring Gates revealed.

This conflict, of course, is a large part of what makes The Expanse so good. I enjoyed this book immensely despite its flaws, and I can't wait to see it on my screen.

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