Sunday, June 26, 2016

2014 Locus SF: ABADDON'S GATE by James S. A. Corey

The third novel of what was originally supposed to be The Expanse Trilogy (at least, that's how I understand it) didn't do as much to advance the story as much as I had hoped. This entry was the first (and last, so far) novel in the series to win a major award, and I get the sense that it is beloved by Expanse fans, but I wasn't too fond of it, and I struggled somewhat to get through it because it feels a bit like it's spinning its wheels, but also because of one character that I found particularly annoying.

The extraterrestrial encounters of the first two books have escalated to create a mysterious object in the outer solar system. The crew of the Rocinante, a ship that was central to the first two books, find themselves drawn towards this mystery alongside the competing powers of the solar system (the Earth, Mars, and Outer colonies)  and competition between these powers again leads to conflict. Meanwhile, we get some new POV characters for the Game of Thrones-style 3rd-person limited narration: a gruff officer from the outer colonies put in an awkward position by his Earthly birth named Bull, a lesbian Christian missionary named Anna, and Melba...ugh, Melba.

This series has always been pretty pulpy, and that continues here. The pulp elements help make all of the books fun, propulsive reads. But, Melba takes the pulp to a whole other level, one that carried past suspension of disbelief for me. She's a vicious augmented fighter motivated by a psychopathic need for revenge who develops an intricate plot to destroy the man she blames for the destruction of her wealthy family. In other words, she's completely over-the-top, and both her actions and the success she achieves in her aims are pretty ridiculous. To make this all the more frustrating, her crazy arc drives and dominates this book that is ostensibly about humanity's contact with the remnants of an intergalactic empire. That last bit is the story I want to read, especially with these fun characters and Corey's fast-paced style and storytelling that are both accessible and imaginative. But, most of the book involves humans fighting each other while being manipulated by this master-plotter vengeance heiress.

This is it for me and the Expanse for now, that I won't rule out picking up another entry down the line some time. It's a series that I'm obviously ambivalent about: its biggest virtue - pulpy, exciting plotting, is also often its biggest downfall.

Grade: C+