Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Abaddon's Gate

Jim Holden and a fleet of ships representing the squabbling factions of humanity are headed out to face the mysterious Ring built by the alien protomolecule - if their own conflicts don't destroy them first.

Holden is being haunted by the incoherent ghost of Detective Miller even as he concentrates on holding together the Rocinante's improvised crew family. He has no intention of getting involved, but the universe seems to have other plans for him.

In the meantime we are introduced to a young woman bent on a mission of revenge who joins the crew of a ship making the journey to the Ring, her focus fixed on one man: Jim Holden. A fleet of ships aimed at the Ring carries an interfaith group of religious leaders - but it may also carry humanity's annihilation.

Even as the group of ships converges around the Ring, factions struggle with violence driven by the worst impulses of humanity: arrogance, fear, and obsession. The Ring has the power to alter the laws of physics, and it becomes apparent that the fumbling violence of the fleet could destroy all of humanity by tripping the Ring's defenses.

The action of this book (which is not necessarily the last of the series but does wrap up a few of the mysteries laid out in Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War) happens mainly on a commandeered generation ship. Formerly owned by Mormons who dreamed of traveling to the stars, the Nauvoo has been rechristened Behemoth and clumsily refitted into a military vessel. It's an appropriate metaphor for the journey of the characters, and of the human race in general. (At one point, realizing that he is headed toward the alien Ring, Holden compares himself to the prophet Jonah by quipping "Off to Ninevah!")

The chief danger confronting our fragile human characters is that of inertia - humans crushed by going too fast and then being brought to an unexpected halt, clever brains moving faster than bodies can handle. Another great metaphor, grounded in the physical realities of zero g space travel.

It's not as compelling as Leviathan, but I enjoy the way Corey grounds each part of the struggle in character. Their relationships to each other matter, and have huge ripple effects on the plot. It's actually an optimistic look at human nature that manages not to ignore all the worst aspects of our kind.

Spoilerish: I was hoping for more info on the gate makers, the civilization that built the protomolecule. Sadly, there's more mutiny and a little less awe and horror than in the first book. Turns out, we're our own worst enemy and we don't need space invaders as an excuse for violence.

Also: Sadly, no Bobbie Draper or Chrisjen Avasarala in this one. I did miss them, and hope they'll show up in another book, since I could see the authors writing more stories in the Expanse universe.

"Too many people with too many agendas, and everyone was worried that the other guy would shoot him in the back."

"It was a lesson he'd never forgotten. That humans only have so much emotional energy. No matter how intense the situation, or how powerful the feelings, it was impossible to maintain a heightened emotional state forever. Eventually you's just get tired and want it to end."

"Show a human a closed door, and no matter how many open doors she finds, she'll be haunted by what might be behind it."

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