Orbit, 2013, 566 pages
For generations, the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt - was humanity's great frontier. Until now.
The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.
The scope of the Expanse series is getting larger with each book, and this space opera now seems set to take off into pretty much any direction. The third book is as good as the first two, my only real objection being that there's just a single character — James Holden — who remains a fixture in each book. Every book brings in a new cast of POV characters to complement Holden; some are more interesting than others, which means the turnover can be good and bad.
Abaddon's Gate picks up where Caliban's War left off: the alien protomolecule has been building a massive ring structure in the outer solar system, and while no one has a clue what it's up to, this does not prevent fools from rushing in. Earth and Mars are each determined not to let the other be the only one to lay claim to the alien artifact, so they have both parked fleets around the ring, studying it while watching each other warily. Meanwhile, the Outer Planets Alliance wants to flex their muscles, so they send the Behemoth — formerly the Nauvoo, a two-kilometer generation ship built by Mormons to carry mankind's first interstellar colony. The OPA salvaged it after the events of Leviathan's Wake and has now retrofitted it as a gigantic battleship which is more for show than actual combat. It can't actually stay in one piece if it ever goes into battle, but it looks damn impressive, so they send it out to join the posturing Earth and Martian fleets.
Three human fleets standing off against one another, all ready to shoot each other if anyone does something funny, while they try to figure out what the big alien artifact built by a species that was seeding the galaxy before Earth had finished cooling is doing. What could go wrong?
Well, for starters, you could throw Jim Holden into the situation. Holden and his ship, the Rocinante, just happen to pick up a contract that takes them to the ring, so of course he is in the center of the action when things start happening. Holden, now famous throughout the solar system for always telling the truth no matter how many wars it starts, becomes the first witness to the alien ring's true purpose, with a little guided tour by a returning character from book one.
As with the first two books in the Expanse series, this one is told through multiple points of view. Sadly, foul-mouthed Avasarala and Martian marine Bobbie Draper are only mentioned in passing in this book. Besides Holden we have "Bull," an OPA enforcer made to take a subordinate position aboard the Behemoth for political reasons; Anna, a Methodist minister dragged into a ecumenical conference aboard the Behemoth, who preaches mercy and redemption in a way that sometimes make her only slightly less stubbornly idiotic than Holden; and lastly, Clarissa Mao, sister of the girl Holden tried to save in the first book, daughter of the man Holden helped destroy in the second book, now bent on revenge. Clarissa is initially the villain of the story, determined to destroy Holden and everyone around him no matter what it takes, but as events take shape out beyond the orbit of Uranus, her perspective begins to be altered by a mutiny, an abrupt alteration in the laws of physics, and the most dangerous threat to life on Earth since a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs.
These books are not new landmarks in science fiction literature, but they probably will take their place as modern genre classics, certainly more deserving of popularity than the many redundant military SF series I've been reading lately. Now that they are being made into a SyFy series, it's easy to see how the cinematic aspects are ramping up with each book. Book one had space zombies and a giant ship crashing into Venus, book two had space battles and alien monsters versus space marines, and Abaddon's Gate features metaphysical visitations by aliens, big dumb alien objects, rival space fleets, and a hot Asian chick being a space ninja, so I'm sure it will all look fabulous on cable. I hope. It's good, entertaining space opera and still intelligent enough not to insult the dedicated SF fan. I'm quite curious to see what where the series goes in book four.
Verdict: Still entertaining and epic, the Expanse series is now one of my favorite modern space operas. Abbadon's Gate maintains the consist high quality of the series. 8/10.
Also by James S.A. Corey: My reviews of Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War.
My complete list of book reviews.