SPOILERS for previous books in the Expanse series!
Goodreads summary: “The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.
But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure.”
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about The Expanse series is how — like Battlestar Galactica — it balances the more fantastical elements of the sci-fi with questions about the human condition and explorations of how we continue hold ourselves back with the same prejudices and struggles for power, even if they are wearing different clothing. History is doomed to repeat itself, basically.
From the beginning, there has been friction between humans from the Inner Planets — Earth and Mars — and those from the Outer Planets, called Belters (as in, beyond the asteroid belt.) The first three stories saw people coming together in the face of perceived larger threats, but the tensions were never resolved; just tabled. Here, they finally come to a head again, after seeing the larger alien threat turn out to be mostly harmless (and in fact, possibly beneficial, what with the portals to new planets.)
As always, Holden and his crew find themselves in the thick of things, as they are basically conflict professionals at this point and have been officially hired to oversee and keep the peace. The book, in a few places, pokes a bit of fun at Holden’s hero complex and how he always seems to be the only one who can save the galaxy. To its credit, Holden is such an everyman character, such a likeable guy, that it’s not ever particularly obnoxious. He’s just a guy who wants to help people and happens to be the favorite haunt-ee of an alien ghost who has insight about, well, alien stuff.
By the end of Cibola Burn, I came away with a favorable impression. But it did drag more than I remember the fist three doing, particularly in the beginning, and I do think it kind of overreached and tried to pack a LOT in, where any one of the conflicts or dangers could have been its own book. In the nearly 600-page book, this had (mild spoilers):
- People on the new planet trying to kill each other
- The planet trying to kill the people on it via some wicked natural disasters
- Everyone on the planet maybe going blind from an eye-parasite
- Ships in space needing to get rescued from burning up in the atmosphere
- A shootout between the ships in space
- Alien defense systems also threatening to blow up the ships, the planet, or both
And that’s not even getting into any of the interpersonal conflict. I’ll be fair: this is a space opera; it’s billed as such and it more than lives up to those expectations. Of COURSE there will be a lot going on. I just think the goings-on were not managed quite as well with this one? But it’s a nitpick. This is still an exciting, engaging installment in a fantastic series.