The Expanse series has captured lightning in a bottle, and Nemesis Games is my favorite installation yet. The entire series is assertively skilled at balancing comedy, drama, suspense, and pure sci-fi adventure, all while grounding the story in character development and the interactions between them, as part of a larger picture that addresses societal concerns that are relevant to us today. Just by existing, the series critiques its contemporaries that are at a loss as to how to include and respect women and minorities. In The Expanse, there exists something as close to gender equality as I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi universe, both in terms of the inclusion, complexity, and diversity of the female characters represented on the page, and how in the constructed universe, equality just seems to be a given. When it comes to race relations, the series pulls a neat trick: races as we know them today are equally represented throughout the inhabited solar system, with newer ethnic groups retaining certain cultural characteristics of older Earth races or nationalities, but those “new” groups aren’t defined by skin color so much as planet of origin.
At the same time, it doesn’t act like humans have completely evolved beyond the tribalism and jingoism that can result in racial tension. So the “races” that tend to have strife between them aren’t our Earthen ethnicities but rather humans from Earth vs. humans from Mars vs. humans from the Belt or “Outer Planets.” What that means, in practice, is that The Expanse meditates heavily on race relations and offers critiques of racism that are very relevant and applicable to us, but it does it on the scale of galactic conflict.
Which brings me, in particular, to Nemesis Games. The series always had an undercurrent of unease between the three major factions (Earth, Mars, and Outer Planets Alliance, or OPA) but up until this point humanity had, more or less, put those conflicts on the back burner because they were faced with a destructive, unpredictable, and seemingly omnipotent alien force that just showed up and started changing physics and the structure of the galaxy. The previous books ended with the promise that portal rings, designed and built by the aliens, led the way to thousands of new habitable planets, and that colonists could successfully start fresh on those planets. It was a pretty optimistic message, all things considered, but Nemesis Games comes in with a different perspective and deadly consequences. Without giving too much away, one major event in this book has been done or at least implied many times before in sci-fi, but watching it play out in this book after four books of buildup was devastating and shocking.
If I went on to list everything else I loved about this book, it would be literally everything, and this review would be a billion words long. So I’ll call out just one other great thing, which was that we finally got more insight into the backstories of the crew of Rocinante, and Naomi’s in particular was heartbreaking.
This series is just such a treat and everyone needs to read it.