Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In The Expanse humanity has spread out among our solar system, and there have been decades of political tension and hostility among the people of Earth, Mars, and the Belters of the Outer Planetary Alliance. The events of the previous books have resulted in the unlocking of a system of wormhole gates that puts literally a thousand habitable new worlds and all their natural resources within reach.
All the people put their differences aside to begin a new golden age of peace and prosperity as they work together to explore and colonize……BWAH HA HA HA! I’m sorry. I couldn’t even finish that with a straight face. I was just messing with you. Actually, most of the people in the future are still short-sighted selfish idiots who suck, just like today, and they promptly begin fighting over the very first planet that has boots on the ground.
A group of squatters from the OPA got to the planet first and set up a half-assed colony as they began mining lithium with the idea of selling it to become independent. The Royal Energy Corporation was given a charter by Earth’s government to survey the planet and exploit its mineral rights. The squatters and the RCE competing claims are complicated by the long history of bigotry and mistrust between the people of Earth and the Belt. Things quickly escalate to violence, and when the governments need a guy with a reputation for honesty and fairness to act as moderator they call on Captain Jim Holden.
So it’s a planet filled with angry people using terrorism tactics against a fanatical security chief for the corporation who will stop at nothing to protect RCE interests. Oh, and there’s lots of alien ruins and artifacts left by a long dead civilization. What could possibly go wrong?
As usual Holden and his intrepid crew are trying to do the right thing and save people in the midst of a political tangle and general assholery. However, the first half of this book has both sides so entrenched in their hatred and grudges that I was half hoping that Holden would just throw up his hands and have the Rocinante bomb them from orbit. Things change a bit in the second half when events put everyone in a dire situation, but even then there’s no shortage of talking sphincters making a bad situation worse.
As I’ve said in my earlier reviews, that’s one of the things that I love about this series. There’s an on-going mystery and potential looming threat with all the alien stuff and the way that Holden is connected to it is very clever. The action and sense of tension are well done, and the good guy characters are all likeable and well-drawn so that you actively root for them while feeling the frustration of every set back and problem. The books also have a healthy sense of humor with a variety of one liners or funny beats drawing a laugh out of a reader at the most unexpected moments. The authors also do a superior job of figuring out bad situations to stick the characters in and equally clever ways to get them out of them.
But it’s still the commitment to making the biggest obstacle usually be rotten people of one kind or another that continues to help ground the series and make it really relatable. These people may be squabbling on another planet, but when they argue about who did what to who and use it for justifications for continuing to escalate the violence it’s all too easy to see ourselves in this collection of asshats.
Bonus Material: Check out the trailers for the TV show based on the series here and here.
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