Monday Review: Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2)
If you listen to the pod, you know Luke and I really enjoyed Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1). One wouldn’t think a space opera and a hard-boiled detective story would come together so beautifully as a whole, but, in the case of the first entry into The Expanse series, they did, managing not only to dock with one another but to interweave, to inform one another without damaging the integrity of either.
Our one quibble was the lack of female main characters.
Caliban’s War continues the story of Captain James Holden and his crew. Because hells, yeah. The protomolecule shows up on Ganymede. Someone (not Holden this time) starts another shooting war between Earth and Mars to further stabilize relations between the inner planets and between the inner planets and The Belt. Julie Mao (and possibly Miller) continue to evolve on Venus.
In addition, we are introduced to Bobbie “don’t call me Roberta” Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala, two ladies with whom no one should fuck. Bobbie, a former Martian Marine who saw her entire platoon slaughtered by a new, weaponized version of the protomolecule has a depth usually lacking in female military characters. She’s smart, troubled, steady, emotional, and a great many other things. Avasarala is a UN undersecretary who looks like a grandmother and swears like a sailor, takes no shit from anyone but loves her husband and grandchildren deeply. Who plays politics with a certain enjoyment, taking no shit from anyone, but also carefully and with no resentment.
These two women, along with Julie Mao, are reshaping the galaxy. Perhaps the solar system. Perhaps more than one. Men try to take what is theirs: their livelihoods, their personalities, their convictions.
Bobbie and Chrisjen have absolutely no time for that bullshit. It is they who are truly shaping reality. The majority of other citizens of The Expanse universe are just along for the ride, whether they know it or not. Whether they want to believe it or not.
It is the ladies shaping reality here, shaping the future. As it should be.
Not that we’d want to abandon our hero, Holden, who, unlike many MCs in long running series, is also changing and evolving. One of the pitfalls of writing a series is a temptation to establish a main character early on and then let him continue at his own status quo as you introduce new people and events around them. And that’s fine, provided the character has been well crafted. But it’s a lot more fun for the reader when that character is made all the more realistic by being affected by the events surrounding him (Holden, for example, is experiencing PTSD after the massacre on Eros). The changes create conflicts within the character, between characters, deepening the story and providing catalysts for change, shaping the future in turn.
Everything changes. And the best stories reveal cards one at a time, show the cascade of internal history while giving the reader new concepts to explore and plots to follow.
I’m going to be bummed when this one runs out.
Five out of five fingers on the hand of glory for Caliban’s War.