Spoilers for Abaddon’s Gate and series 3 of the TV series.
I came to this series via the television adaptation, and it’s been a difficult choice with each season – read or watch first. This time I watched, and while the adaptation continues to stay true to the shape of the story while tinkering around the edges, a major difference between Cibola Burn and season 4 was the book’s tight focus on the story of Ilus/New Terra while TV bounces us around between the additional locations of Earth, Mars, Medina Station and places in between to make sure all of the excellent cast has something meaningful to do.
Bobbie Draper makes a brief appearance in the prologue to set the scene: “It was astounding, Bobbie thought, how quickly humanity could go from What unimaginable intelligence fashioned these soul-wrenching wonders? To Well, since they’re not here, can I have their stuff?”.
In the future of the Expanse series, unlike the greed-free fantasy of Star Trek, humans have taken all of their messy complications with them as they reach for the final frontier. The opening of the ring network at the end of Abaddon’s Gate has vastly expanded the scale of humanity’s reach, with a thousand new worlds to fight over. The UN, Mars and Outer Planetary Alliance have made an uneasy alliance to control access to the ring gate and manage migration. But a Belter ship has slipped through before the door was closed to set up a mining colony on a planet they call Ilus, named after the brother of Ganymede. And an Earth corporation has sent a scientific mission to the same planet, that they call New Terra, backed by a UN charter. As these conflicting claims collide, James Holden is sent by the UN and OPA to mediate. That was never going to end well.
Cibola Burn is in many ways a classic science fiction story of humanity struggling against an alien environment. But the people here are the sorts of diverse and complicated individuals that inhabit the nuanced political landscape of the Expanse , rather than the noble rational heroes of the Golden Age. Point of view chapters bounce between the crew of the Rocinante and new characters from the rival missions, two with links to the series backstory, as challenges escalate and conflicting motives and values shoot down increasingly desperate solutions.
Bobie Draper is back in the epilogue to place this book in its broader context. What has happened on Ilus/New Terra is a microcosm of the broader conflicts facing humanity, as the thousand worlds beyond the gates beckon. In the characteristically blunt words of senior UN official Chrisjen Avarasala: “James Holden, who could have made New Terra a poster for why you might rather stay home and give us a little breathing room, instead found a bright new way to fuck things up.”