James S.A. Corey: Abaddon's Gate

Jan 10, 2016

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve read The Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey, the second installment in the The Expanse series which has been adapted to a TV show of the same name by the SyFy channel. The third book is titled Abbadon’s Gate, it came out in 2013 and there have been two more books since then, the sixth book is scheduled for this year and three more are planned. All five have so far come out in June in consecutive years — that’s how it’s done G.R.R.!

The Expanse is a space opera taking place in a recognizable future when the human race has colonized the solar system while becoming resource restrained and turning control of almost all aspects of human life over to the UN (aka the Earth government), Mars colony has gained independence and works on terraformation (marsformation?) of the its planet and there’s a growing tension between Earth and the outer planets. A sudden attack on a commercial transport ship sparks a war and in the middle of the action is a do-gooder James Holden with his crew. I won’t recount two books just to get to the third one, especially since the TV show seems to stick to the source material pretty faithfully.

Spoilers ahead

Abbadon’s Gate takes a big turn. Everyone is rushing to see the latest surprise by the protomolecule in the form of a circular gate hanging around the edge of the solar system. An adrenaline junkie has gone through and never returned, the readings coming from the other side are strange and defy the laws of physics. Holden is taking his crew out of danger on a boring job as far as possible from all the turmoil, but his plans fall apart. He gets manipulated into taking a reporter crew on board as passengers heading to the gate.

At the same time, Earth sends an expedition of politicians, priests, theologians, artists and other nutters to explore the gate and gauge its meaning. Mars sends military, of course, and the Belters can’t stay behind and have to send the generational ship Nauvoo masquerading as a battle ship. To make the cocktail complete, a daughter of Charles Mao sets on a revenge path against Holden and planning to use every trick possible to discredit ahim.

Naturally, everyone goes through the gate to find a bubble universe with changing physical laws which is a cross roads between countless galaxies. Holden meets a projection of its defense mechanism in the form of Miller, Clarissa’s plan goes haywire and many people die when the maximum speed of movement is suddenly reduced.

There are two key viewpoint characters. The first one is Anna a preacher who is a member of the Earth expedition; she promotes understanding and kindness in a world which balances on the edge of madness. Her attitude is very humane and positive in the face of cruelty, stupidity, blind ambition and hatred. The second character is Bull, an Earther in charge of security of the OPA mission. Despite being the most senior and reasonable person on the ship, the captainship is given to a narrow-minded Belter with little experience. Bull tries to keep the ship running and uphold some sort of order in the middle of the madness and eventually leads a mutiny in an attempt to save all the people trapped by the gate.

The end of the book is a great setup for the rest of the series, but it sort of puzzled me. There’s either a super powerful species behind the closed door and when humans peek through, they’ll be smashed without having any chance of survival; or all the accessible galaxies are “dead” after some transgalactic war (boring); or there is something behind some of them and the story somehow gets steered in the right direction. I hope, that the authors have a clear vision which will wrap the stories nicely instead of spilling into a pile of neverending divergent stories.

Spoilers above

All in all, it is a great book. I think, I liked the first two slightly better, but this is by no means a disappointment. The story is a huge ride with turns which, while not completely surprising, still keep an air of mystery because of the apparent technological advantage of the protomolecule — it’s essentially allpowerful, but this book put an unknown race above it. The question is whether the escalation will be well handled and paced. We’ll see!