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Novella Reviews: The Expanse by James S.A. Corey

Whenever I’m tackling a new series that contains novellas as an option, I’m always pestering people to see if they’re worth reading. Some shorts add missing/deleted scenes back into the mix (generally tangents the authors had to cut), while others stand as solid works all on their own as true “bonus” content to the main series. The Expanse novellas definitely fall into the latter category, as most of them have very little impact on the overall arc of the series. Which is not to say that they don’t enhance the series, so I count them solidly in the “worth reading” category.

One of the things I appreciate about these authors is their ability to capture the raw essence of humanity. Motivations, fears, and all the other driving forces behind their actions. These stories will carve out your heart with their earnestness. Vital Abyss and The Churn were the most thought-provoking for me in this regard, but I have to appreciate the raw, relatable emotion in The Drive. I suppose the same is true for Gods of Risk, though I was a little less connected to that one (I did end up appreciating the sum of the whole by the end).

The story with the biggest tie to the series was The Butcher of Anderson Station. Any fan of the series has heard tell of Fred Johnson’s pseudonym and wondered what events earned him the title. This perhaps was the short I was most interested in reading initially, but it was also the one I walked away with the least from, save a little more insight on what drives Johnson’s moral compass.

Of all the works, the most recent one, Strange Dogs, was the most unsettling. It gives me a pit in my stomach on what’s to come in future novels, but at the same time makes me really excited to see where they’re going with the story.

Overall, Vital Abyss was my favorite, but The Churn is the one I’m most excited for people to read. It’s the type of story that leaves a little grit behind, but it was such a fulfilling insight into one of the series’ best characters that it’s a must-read. If you only read one, however, it seems that Strange Dogs, while the most bizarre, might actually have the most impact on the next book, Persepolis Rising… time will tell.

Recommendations: Each of these novellas adds momentum to the Expanse universe with a quality of writing that always knocks my socks off. more great stories from great writers. I wouldn’t call any of these essential to the main series, but they definitely help broaden your perspective. As an added benefit, they’ll help hold you over until the next book comes out.

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

November 7, 2017

Title: Persepolis Rising

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #7

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: December 5, 2017

The Overview: Goodreads – you let me down. No synopsis available yet. :/ 

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Nik’s Notes:

The Expanse series is easily my favorite space opera/science fiction on the market. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every book so far and hope Persepolis Rising regains some of that awesome momentum that Babylon’s Ashes was missing. The series has a lot of action, great characters, and tons of memorable moments. If you haven’t picked it up yet, what are you waiting for? It’s awesome!

Who else is waiting for Persepolis Rising??? :D

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Title: Cibola Burn

Author: James S. A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #4

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: 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.

The Review:

I love this series – the plot, the characters, the humor, the world building… all of it. I was excited for this one in particular because when I first started The Expanse a couple of years ago I thought it was only going to be a trilogy. Cibola Burn (and Nemesis Games) felt like bonus books. I’m super thrilled the story is not over!!!

As always, this Expanse book had an excellent mix of familiar and new POV characters – an element that has always kept these novels fresh and exciting for me. Of all the non-Rocinante crewmember POVs we’ve met, I unfortunately enjoyed the ones in this book the least. They just couldn’t compete with Avasarala, Bobbie, or even Bull… but they were still good because I don’t think these authors could write crappy characters if they tried. I’ve mentioned before that strong characterization is my favorite part about this series, in part because they always feel like real people, flaws and all. It’s fantastic.

Admittedly, I expected the story to go much broader from this point (it is, after all, The Expanse series), especially after the vast potential and new revelations discovered in Abaddon’s Gate. But the scope of Cibola Burn maintained a fairly narrow scope (not that it wasn’t just as enjoyable, mind you). Having it different than my expectations didn’t disappoint me like many other novels have, but instead made me appreciate how consistent these authors are. They don’t jump the story ahead of what is feasibly possible just to advance the plot. As a result, all of the progression the solar system makes feels natural and unforced. Human ambition never goes beyond what is technologically possible, and I love that consistency. Not to mention that it was still wildly interesting even without fast expansion.

As narrow as the story might have felt, the things that happened in this novel will definitely have galaxy-wide ramifications… I can’t wait to see how they’re going to cope next! The broadness of the concept (particularly involving the protomolecule and its origins) always makes me feel so immersed these books.

Overall, Cibola Burn was a great continuation of the story (the next book, Nemesis Games, was even better! Review to come…). If you are a Firefly fan, or if you’re even looking to dip your toes in the space opera genre, give this series a try!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey

 June 2, 2015

Title: Nemesis Games

Author: James S. A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #5

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: June 2, 2015

The Overview: A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle. Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price. And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.

Waiting on Wednesday
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Breaking the Spine

I haven’t even read the fourth book in this series yet, but I already know I’m going to be absolutely thrilled when Nemesis Games comes out in June. These are the kind of books that keep you up all night – partly because they’re so good, but mostly because they are fricking intense! I also think The Expanse series contains some of the most well-written characters of any series I’ve ever read – to the point where I feel like I’m reading about real people, not just figments of someone’s mind. Overall, I consider these books a must-read for anyone who loves a good space opera (Firefly, anyone?). You better believe I’ll be picking this one up in hardcover the day comes out.

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey

Title: Abaddon’s Gate

Author: James S. A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: 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 Mini Review:

Whenever I pick up an Expanse novel, I know I’m in for a guaranteed good read. The authors just know how to create a high-stakes, fast-paced, thrill ride that usually has me devouring pages long after I should’ve gone to sleep (seriously – don’t read this book before you go to bed, you’ll never get any rest!). And aside from excellent pacing, part of what makes these novels so great are the characters. Each novel follows the story progression of the crew of the Rocinante, but also includes a few other POVs who add extra flair to story. As much as I love Holden and his crew, it’s these extra characters that I’ve come to look forward to most. They’re all written so well it’s like reading about real people – I’m definitely using this series as Exhibit A for characterization in my own writing. Combine that with compelling conflicts that get more complex and interesting with each novel, and you have yourself a killer series. Overall, if you love science fiction (especially space operas) this is currently my top recommend of the genre. I’ve heard it’s even in the final stages of becoming a television series, which will hopefully be just as epic!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes