Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
Published: Orbit (2015)
Series: Book 5 of The Expanse

The Book:

A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.

Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.

And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.”

I read this book as an audiobook for a community read-along, and you can see our spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  This is my favorite of the series so far. I’m planning to post my review of Babylon’s Ashes later in December, and I’ll be joining a read-along for Persepolis Rising in January!

My Thoughts:

Nemesis Games takes a different approach than previous novels in terms of the viewpoint characters. Instead of introducing new characters, it gives the reader the perspective of characters they already know and (at least in my case) like a great deal.  Holden remains our continuing hero through the series, but the other chapters are through the eyes of Alex, Naomi and Amos, the crew of the Rocinante.  I was so excited to see the universe through their eyes, and also to learn more about their pasts and how their experiences have shaped them. Each of them has a distinct personality and voice.  By the end, I felt like I understood each of them so much more than I had before. I was especially impressed with Naomi’s tenacity and intelligence, and she has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the series.

While I loved these characters in general, their differing backgrounds also made them ideal for this particular story.  The four of them scattered--to Mars, the Earth, and the Belt--to address their own personal matters. Meanwhile, solar-system-wide mysteries and civilization-changing events were afoot, and these large-scale events ran through and wove together the viewpoint characters’ individual stories. Unlike my complaints with Cibola Burn, this time every chapter felt necessary to the whole, and the characters always seemed integral to the events happening around them. There were some really spectacularly fun bits, too, like Amos’s blunt conversations with Chrisjen Avasarala and Alex’s collaboration with Bobbie.  I enjoyed how well the novel balanced funny or emotional character moments with the consequences of major system-wide events.

On the larger scale, this novel deals with the consequences of the opening of the gates on the existing status quo of the solar system.  While having loads of new planets may seem like a good thing, it does have negative effects.  The great project to terraform Mars is beginning to look a little pointless, and Belters worry that an increased focus on planetary living will push them out of existence.  These conflicting human motivations drive the story, and alien-related problems move to the back-burner.  When the crisis point comes, it is a game changer for humanity and for this series.  I’m still curious to learn more about the ancient alien civilization, but I have enjoyed the focus on human actions in this stage of the story.   I’m excited to see what will happen in the final four books of the series!

My Rating: 5/5

Nemesis Games, 5th book of The Expanse, is my favorite of the series to date.  Instead of introducing new major characters, the viewpoint characters were the members of the close-knit Rocinante crew. The story was full of suspense and action, and each character’s personal arc tied into the momentous events that affect humanity across the solar system.  There’s very little to do with aliens this time around, and instead the focus is on how the current events have affected the various slices of human civilization.  I think Nemesis Games will be hard to top, but I’ll be happy if the rest of the series proves me wrong!   

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Short Fiction: August 2017

It’s time to highlight another handful of my favorite short fiction stories, this time from those that were published in August 2017!  This time, I found all the stories very deeply emotionally affecting, and each also held a sense of hope and peace for the future.  This is the first time I’ve featured Elaine Cuyegkeng and Kate Marshall, but Linda Nagata has shown up on my blog before for both short fiction and long.  I’m still planning on continuing her military SF series at some point.  Anyway, on to the stories, and I have provided links to where they are available to read online!   

These Constellations will be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Short Story, Strange Horizons): In a space-faring empire, young precognitive girls from a particular culture are taken, indoctrinated, and physically patched into starships.  The main character has already been made into a starship, and she watches the possible futures of another girl who was ransomed from the same fate by familial wealth. This is a story of the suffering caused by colonialism, racism and the commodification of people.  At the same time, as we see the vision and revolutionary tendencies of the unmade girl, it carries a strong sense of hope that injustice will not always go unchallenged. As the story says, “The problem is that people are reasonable. They are very reasonable, until they cannot be reasonable anymore.

Red Bark and Ambergris by Kate Marshall (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): In this fantasy world, people who have the ability to ‘sense’ are taken from their homes and imprisoned on a dreary island to work out their lives in service to a cruel queen.  Sarai dreams of becoming a poison-tamer, the only path that may eventually grant her access to the queen and court. However, her natural talent is in constructing beautiful scents to evoke memory and emotion, not taming poisons.  She may never be allowed to return home, but she must decide what meaning she will make of her life.  It was a very emotional story, focused on her internal struggle as represented by the competing talents.  Her eventual conclusion was bittersweet, but it felt fitting.

The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata (Short Story, The world’s slow collapse is reaching its end, and it looks like the human race will not survive.  Susannah has already lost everything, and she has dedicated the remainder of her life to remotely building an obelisk on Mars.  Humanity may pass away, but the obelisk will remain as a memorial.  However, the world hasn’t actually ended quite yet, and events may upset her final plans.  This story is kind of a tearjerker, but it is also about the importance of not giving in to despair.  Susannah is a very emotionally engaging character, and following her changing perspective through the story left me feeling more hopeful for the future.   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Read-Along: Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey, Part 4 [END]

Welcome to the final post in the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, book six of The Expanse!  We’re planning to tackle the new book, Persepolis Rising, in January.  If you’d like to join, speak up at our Goodreads group page! This week’s questions were provided by There’s Always Room for One More, and they cover through the end of the book.  Please beware of spoilers from here on out!

1. So - we get up close and personal with Marco Inaros. Reactions?

He is just as awful of a person as I had surmised by seeing him from the perspective of others? I didn’t really enjoy seeing his thoughts about characters I liked, and it seems he’s one of those gross (and dangerous) people who refuse to let exes go.  Further, his sections thoroughly convinced me that he did not have the strategy or vision to really lead the Belt into a stable future.  It was pretty satisfying when his section ended with him and all his followers getting vaporized!    

2. Filip completes his arc - were you surprised? How do you feel about him as a character now? Would you be happy to see his POV in the future?

I was surprised that his character arc didn’t have anything to do with killing all those people or his feelings about it. I feel like him being a mass murderer was really just kind of side-stepped, and he hasn’t even seemed particularly concerned about it (he’s still proud, I guess).  Instead, his arc was about him moving from hero-worshipping his dad to realizing that he’s an abusive manipulator.  I guess the more that see that side of Marco the merrier, but I don’t see any reason to modify my previous opinion of Filip.  I don’t really feel any desire to see more of his perspective, but I hope Naomi finds out he’s not dead.  That will help a bit with her grief and guilt.

3. What do you make of Holden’s choice at the end?

I think it made a lot of sense.  I was facepalming as well, when I heard Avasarala wanted Holden to be the head of the new Belter union.  They’ve tried that.  Fred’s OPA was not exactly a resounding success, though he did his best.  The OPA needs a leader that is a Belter, not an Inner who really wants to help them.

As for which Belter, as much as I have criticized her, I think Michio will do well.  She’ll deal fairly with Belters, and she has already been organizing distribution of goods throughout the Belt.  I got the impression she’s highly visible in Belter society, and people will likely respect that she cared so much about the people of the Belt that she turned against the Free Navy to help them.  I might have chosen Anderson Dawes, just because he’s used to complicated administration work, but I think Michio will be a good choice.

I’ll just say, though, Naomi would have been an awful choice.  Not because I think she couldn’t do it, but because I think she’d be miserable in the job.  She does not strike me as someone who would be happy spending her days administering a complicated trade union.

4. Can Holden's vision succeed? Is it going to be happily ever after?

I think so.  Weirdly enough, this is one of the ideas I was thinking of when Belters started talking about their vanishing niche.  It makes a lot of sense for them to be in charge of trade.  I can see a few potential pitfalls, though.  The Belters have never done anything this large and organized, so there’s bound to be mistakes and growing pains.  Second, a good number of them hate people who live on planets.  Ships with these kinds of folks are likely to price gouge or otherwise abuse colonists.  This could be managed by ensuring frequent trade stops per planet and a rotation of different ships, I think, so that no community is dependent upon any one shipment.  So not exactly happily ever after--they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.  I think the future is brighter for them than it’s looked for a while though!

For a final thought, I loved that Naomi was the one who saved the day, and that she did it through data analysis! I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store in Persepolis Rising!