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

3 09 2013

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, Book 3) by James S. A. Corey

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 18 Hrs 26 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: In Abaddon’s Gate Corey balances the love of exploration all great space operas have with vivid action and characters that seem so alive you can feel the tingle of their breath on the back of your neck. Abaddon’s Gate left me completely satisfied, and craving for more.

Grade: A-

NOTE: As this is book 3 in a series, there may be SPOILERS for those who haven’t read the first two books.

Most books, particularly the action oriented novels I enjoy, whether they be thrillers or speculative fiction, have clear good guys and bad guys. While the good guys aren’t always completely good, in the moralistic sense of the word, they tend to be better than the bad guys they are fighting and. Yet, life isn’t always cut and dry. Often times, the line between protagonist and antagonist is a matter of perception. My favorite fictional tales often fall into this sort of gray area. For any book, there is needed conflict, yet, too often, since we are allowed to understand the motivations and beliefs of the perspective character and see their enemies through their filters, we strongly understand that in this fight, they are in the right. Yet, that doesn’t always mean that their enemies are “bad guys” nor is their confidence in their righteousness any more deserving than those we believe to be in the wrong.  I think this is something that we often forget in real life. Often times with issues in real life or fiction, whether they be political or otherwise, the opposing side has a just as much righteous motivation for their actions. Your heroes, or those aligned with your ideals may believe that the actions undertaken by their opponents will result in disaster. Yet, the antagonists may have an equally valid belief that if they don’t succeed or prevent you from succeeding, a disaster will strike. Usually, the only true judge of who is a hero and who is its villain is history. Take away the conflict of ideals, and those on both sides of the issue may actually be allies. Yet, due to a differing opinion on an issue, become life long enemies due to one moment in history where they both find themselves fighting the righteous fight for an admirable ideal. Yet, sadly, this concept is rarely explored in fiction. All too often, author’s want their conflict to be black and white, even when their protagonists acts in shades of gray. The ends justify their heroes’ means because their hero is on the side that will eventually prove to be right and their opponent’s heartless villains even though their actions are similar to the proven “good guys.”

Jim Holden, Captain of the Rocinante, has problems. An old enemy wants to smear his name and organize his death, and Mars has taken legal issue with the salvage claim on his ship and wants the Rocinante back. His only chance to save his life and his ship is to head towards The Ring, a strange alien artifact that is using the form of his dead ally to communicate with him.  Yet, when the Rocinante flees and the exploratory fleet follows them into the ring and are sent unknown miles across space, violence erupts between those who want to return home and those who believe returning will bring destruction to those left behind, and of course, caught in the middle is Jim and his crew. Abaddon’s Gate is the latest edition in The Expanse series,  James SA Corey’s epic space adventure set in the intermediate age of space travel where earth has settled throughout the solar system but has yet to gain access to the stars. Again, Corey changes focus in his novel, this time away from the conflicts between Earth, Mars and the outer planets, and focuses on the intentions of the Protegen molecule and the strange alien artifact. The story is a more intimate and claustrophobic one. While it travels the furthest away from the solar system, it deals with issues of moral responsibility and the adaptation of religion and faith in a space faring society creating a mood more limited in physical scope but broad in the conceptual. Again, Holden finds himself at the center of a power struggle, this time between the leader of the exploratory force who gained his position through political means, and his security chief, Bull, whose political liabilities prevented him for getting the command that he was more suited for. This struggle leads to violence and mutinies on top of mutinies as the stranded force must deal with the alien artifact’s strange manipulation of space while trying to get home without damning humanity. I loved how Corey managed to bring religion into the mix as agents of gray, two sides of good people with strongly differing opinions. Instead of taking the easy, black and white religion is bad approach that we often see, Corey manages to balance the tale by creating the true hero of the tale in the form of a Methodist Minister named Anna who may be one of the series strongest characters in unexpected ways. While Abaddon’s Gates may lack the intricate machinations and fascinating worldbuilding that the first two novels had, Corey more than makes up for it with his crisp pacing and splendid action that kept listeners floating on the ends of their low grav seats.  Abaddon’s  Gate is proof that authors can constantly shift focus in their series, and tell multiple kinds of tales within the worlds they create, and still keep it fresh, exciting and consistent. I enjoyed every moments of Abaddon’s Gate. It tickled that spot in my heart that leaps for joy when given the opportunity to explore the unknown, even if it’s dangerous. Corey balances the love of exploration all great space operas have with vivid action and characters that seem so alive you can feel the tingle of their breath on the back of your neck. Abaddon’s Gate left me completely satisfies, and craving for more.

You know you have totally sold into a series narrator when you get mad at an author for not including a certain character because you loved how they performed them. This was the situation I faced with Abaddon’s Gate (the authors know who I’m talking about. MORE!) Jefferson Mays delivers another solid performance, bringing this world fully alive for the listener. Mays is one of the few male narrators where I actually think he does better with his female characters than his male. Not that his male character’s aren’t excellent, he just hits a whole other level when he voices Corey’s complicated and wonderful female characters. It was also great to have Miller back even if it’s an alien replicated version of him, largely due to Mays sardonic delivery of the character that got more than one laugh out of me. Mays really steps up the pacing for Abaddon’s Gate. The focus on action really came alive in this audio version, and there were moments I risked cramping up due to a lack of oxygen because I totally forgot to continue breathing until I knew all my favorite characters were safe. Abaddon’s Gate is truly a great example of how good science fiction can be in audio with just the right narrator and I am excited to see what part of The Expanse Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante head to next.

Audiobook Review: Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

24 12 2012

Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey (Book 2 of The Expanse)

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 19 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: From the very first page, Caliban’s Wake had me enthralled. It’s a second novel that doesn’t suffer from the tradition second novel’s fate. It’s has a fully contained story, new characters that actually enhance the story and true emotional impact through a realistic portrayal of broken characters. Fans of Leviathan Wakes should not hesitate to jump into this latest tale of the Expanse, and for those new to the world, what are you waiting for?

Grade: A-

Leviathan Wakes was a novel last year that I listened to mostly because it was nominated for ALL THE AWARDS, most particularly in the science fiction category of the Audies. Well, that, and because the novel had Vomit Zombies. Honestly, if it wasn’t nominated for an Audie, and wasn’t on my list as a participant in the Armchair Audies event, I’m not sure I would have listened to the novel. While I love science fiction, the description of the novel didn’t really capture me. I’m actually less of a Hard Scifi guy that most fans, and tend to like more explody, almost pulpish scifi, over intricate space operas and wasn’t sure where Leviathan Wakes fell within the genre. Yet, I ended up listening to it, and liked it. Liked it, not loved it. It took me a while to engage with the story, to get a handle on the characters and become invested in the world. Simply put, I found the beginning kinda meh, and the ending pretty kickass. So, when Caliban’s Wake first came out, I was excited for it, yet, there was a delay between when the print version came out, and all my favorite Speculative fiction bloggers were raving about it, and when the audio version came out. In that two month delay, my enthusiasm began to wane. I think I started to realize that rarely does a second novel improve over the first. In fact, far too often a first novel holds a pretty self contained story, and then the second novel serves almost as a set up novel for the trilogies conclusion, leaving us with some sort of cliffhanger, and not offering a satisfying conclusion. So, although I snatched up the audio pretty quickly, it took a while to go from recent purchase to an active place on my listening schedule.

Caliban’s War finds the crew of the Rocinante working for The Outer Planet’s Alliance hunting Space Pirates. Yet, when a strange incident on Ganymede leads Jim Holden to believe his boss has broken his trust and released a violent pathogen, the crew must find a way to uncover what happens, and search for a missing girl who may hold the keys to the conflict. Caliban’s War is the rare second book in a trilogy that actually improves over its predecessor in every way. While Leviathan Wakes spent a great deal of time intricately developing the complicated politics of Corey’s near future world, Caliban’s War jumps right into the action and never slows down. Yet, Caliban’s Wake isn’t just about Space Monsters, large scale battles and thrilling rescues, Corey gives us a glimpse of the changed Earth and its culture without dragging down the pace. Corey introduces a new character to the mix, Mar’s Marine Bobbi Draper that helps provide deeper incite into both Mars and Earth. Some of my favorite scenes were when Bobbi encounters the culture of Earth, trying to figure out how much of what she has been told about Earth is true and how much is just Martian propaganda. Filtering these scenes through Bobbie’s perspective gave us an outsider’s perspective, seamlessly integrating this bit of world building into the plot. Along the way Bobbi meets up with a powerful Earth politician, another new POV character Chrisjen Avasarala, whose political machinations only enhanced the story. So often when new characters are added to a series, I find myself longing to get back to those who I have already developed a relationship with, and this was often the case with the third new character, Prax, but with Bobbi and Avasarala, I was totally enthralled. Corey also does a good job showing how the horrific events that Holden experienced in Leviathan Wake changed him, and how it affected his crew and his relationship with Naomi. In fact, there is a lot of emotional resonances to be found within the pages of breakneck action. These are not cardboard characters that can shake of death and devastation with a wink and a nod, and each member of the crew, as well as the new characters, bring their own issues to the story, giving it more depth that your typical space opera or military science fiction tale. From the very first page, Caliban’s Wake had me enthralled. It’s a second novel that doesn’t suffer from the tradition second novel’s fate. It’s has a fully contained story, new characters that actually enhance the story and true emotional impact through a realistic portrayal of broken characters. Fans of Leviathan Wakes should not hesitate to jump into this latest tale of the Expanse, and for those new to the world, what are you waiting for?

I’m not sure if it was just the fact that Caliban’s War was simply a more engaging tale, or some improvement by the narrator, but any reservations I had about Jefferson Mays performance in Leviathan Wakes was eliminated in Caliban’s War. Mays shows a total command over these characters. Mays particularly shines in his performance of new POV character Chrisjen Avasarala. Mays adds the right flavor to her voice, showing her strong character and acerbic wit. It is truly a highlight of the production. Mays pacing was pristine, he managed to make an almost 20 Hour audiobook feel too short. Yet, it wasn’t a perfect performance. There were a few scenes where his delivery didn’t match certain descriptive tags written into the story. For example, there were a few scenes a character is described as having “yelled” something, and it surprised me because Mays didn’t add anything, either in volume or urgency to those scenes. Mays uses a quiet confidence in his reading that usually worked, but at some moments his measured delivery muted key scenes. Yet, this minor complaint didn’t affect the overall feel of the book. Caliban’s War took a series I was interested in, and excited me enough to make the concluding novel Abaddon’s Gate one of my most anticipated science fiction novels of 2013.

Audiobook Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

9 05 2012

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse, Bk. 1)

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 19 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Space Opera/Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: . In Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey has created a realistic vision of the early stages Earth’s space faring future. Full of well developed characters, grand adventure and complex ethical situations, Leviathan Wakes is solid science fiction, delivering thrills while making you think.

Grade: B+

Leviathan Wakes is nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Science Fiction category. 

For the longest time I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to listen to Leviathan Wakes. When I first heard of the novel, I thought it sounded interesting, but not enough to find itself prioritized on my mountainous To Be Listened To pile or to actually spend an Audible Credit on. I love scifi, but unless I am quite familiar with the author I fall victim to the big publicity machine. It takes not just a concept that instantly grabs my attention, but that concept must be presented to me through advertising, peer buzz and reviews. Basically, what I am saying is that I am lazy. The majority of what I listen to is authors I have been reading for years or subgenres that I am always hunting for and if something falls outside of those categories, someone else has to do the work of discovering what the book is about and presenting it to me in a manner designed to peak my interest. Yet, something weird happened with Leviathan Wakes. While there was never a big, "Ah Ha!" moments for me, the novel lingered around the peripherals of my attention. It started to gather award nominations. I began to hear discussions of the novel by fellow bloggers whose opinion I respect. Slowly, I began to discover the novel, and what it was about. Then, it was nominated for an Audie Award. When I became involved in Armchair Audies, I discovered that Leviathan Wakes wasn’t just a title in a category I was planning to listen to, but one which I was actually excited about. As I researched the novel a bit more, knowing I would be listening to it, I discovered there was actually a Zombie subplot. This was the final piece in my listening puzzle. I was looking for a book for Zombie Awareness Month which contained Zombies, but in which the Undead were not the main focus, as sort of a change of pace read for the event. Leviathan Wakes fit this bill perfectly.

I have only recently discovered the science fiction subgenre of The Space Opera. Most of the science fiction I had read before was earthbound scifi thrillers, and Post Apocalyptic novels. Yet, the idea of Earth becoming a space faring Planet, spreading humankind to the stars has always fascinated me. So, I began to read far future space faring novels by authors like David Weber and Jack Campbell. Yet, Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey offered me something new, and in my reading experience, fresh. Leviathan Wakes takes place in a sort of intermediate stage of Earth’s expansion. While Earth has yet to reach the stars, we have expanded our grasp of our own solar system. Mars, initially a colony of Earth, has risen to be a power that rivals its mother planet. Along with Mars, the near Earth Asteroid belt has also been colonized. With this fascinating setting in place, Corey (the pseudonym of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) has created a science fiction story that is more about the people than the science. Corey combines the swashbuckling adventures of Firefly, with the noir stylings of Chandler, and fills it with realistic, complicated characters. The story is presented through two main point of views, James Holden, the earth born XO of a Water Hauler whose ship is mysteriously destroyed while he’s on a rescue mission, and Detective Miller, a washed out Detective whose conflicting loyalties leads to an actual metal break. Forced together due to a series of circumstances, Holden and Miller discover a strange scientific experiment on a space station that begins transforming people into strange undead vomit zombies. While the plot is full of wild theories, far reaching conspiracies, and complicated interplanetary politics, filtered through the perspectives of Holden and Miller it comes of seamlessly. Often times such complex plots become hard to follow, and sludge up the narrative, yet, Leviathan Wakes manages to buck this trend presenting s smooth, exciting tale which will keep you mesmerized as each new level is revealed. In Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey has created a realistic vision of Earth’s space faring future. Full of well developed characters, grand adventure and complex ethical situations, Leviathan Wakes is solid science fiction, delivering thrills while making you think.

Leviathan Wakes was narrated by Jefferson Mays. This is my first opportunity experiencing Mays narration, and I feel his did a solid job. Each character was well defined, and he moved the plot along crisply, adding the right touch of emotion at the proper moments. He has a solid grasp on accents and vocal cadence, capturing the unique sounds and almost musical tilt to the Belter’s vocal evolution when needed. May’s reading is almost workmanlike, never overdoing any aspect of the reading. His reading emphasized story over style, never inserting himself into the narrative, just allowing the authors words to do the heavy lifting. While I wasn’t blown away by his reading, I understood why the production garnered an Audie nomination. Leviathan Wakes is presented as it should be, with no bells or whistles, just a straight up reading of an excellent science fiction tale.