Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“This is as good as it gets. Can’t expect everyone to be on the same page. We’re still humans after all. Some percentage of us are always going to be assholes.”
- Naomi Nagata - Nemesis Games
"Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast."
- Ron Burgundy - Anchorman: The Legend of Run Burgundy
After their latest misadventure the Rocinante is in need of extensive repairs that will keep the ship sidelined as the crew finds itself with a variety of personal matters that need their attention so they split up and head to different spots all over the solar system. Unfortunately, one of them gets caught up in an elaborate trap that will have a devastating and long-range impact.
The Expanse novels have been about big events potentially changing the future of humanity, but these things have been done against a backdrop that fundamentally hasn’t changed. The political and military organizations have remained mostly stable, and a large part of the story is about the reaction by those powers to what's going on. What happens here is particularly sneaky on the part of the authors who make up the James S.A. Corey name because this is the point where they’ve kicked over the table and upset the entire game.
That makes sense because by their 9 book timeline this is where we cross the halfway point so we’re firmly in the second act which is where things traditionally get dark for the heroes of any kind of story. What’s shocking here is the extent of the damage done, and it’s made even more disturbing that even those who have generally been portrayed as being the most powerful and savviest characters get caught flat-footed.
Once again, that makes sense in the greater context of The Expanse because one of its on-going themes is how short-sighted selfish people can always draw attention away from larger threats and find a way to fight over things even as humanity should be on the brink of a new age of limitless exploration and expansion. This is especially been built up as part of an increasingly good job of developing villains.
At the start of the series the third party subjective nature of shifting the point-of-view around a handful of characters sometimes made the threats seem vague or to come out of nowhere. Since the third book the authors have done a much better job of finding ways to put a face on the bad guys, and they’ve got a knack for creating a particular brand of smug self-absorbed jerkfaces who are masters of developing rationalizations for their actions.
Another selling point here is that at this point in the series we’re fully invested in our main characters. (Or at least I assume that anyone who is reading the 5th book of 500+ page novels cares at least a little bit about these guys.) By scattering the crew of the Roci around and making them the narrators who carry the story, it not only brings a lot of the epic scale down to a more relatable level, it also sets up a near guarantee in emotional investment. Even as they’re going through different trails and tribulations they all have one goal, to get back to their ship and each other. That's the hook that carries off this whole thing because it's what all the readers want, too.
I could nitpick a bit about how some of the coincidences seem a bit much or that the novella The Churn probably should have been boiled down to backstory for this one rather than selling it as a extra by itself. But overall I’m just having too much fun with this series to gripe much other than bitching about how now I gotta wait until the summer of 2016 for the next book. I just hope I don’t get Dark Towered on this thing….
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