James S.A. Corey, “Tiamat’s Wrath” (2019) (read by Jefferson Mays) – It’s hard not to come to a book with preconceived notions of how it’ll be, harder still when you read (in this case, listened to) seven of its series predecessors in a given calendar year. Somehow, I got it in my head that the Expanse series picks up after a nadir of boredom and pointless a book or two back. Maybe it does, some, but that preconception took some hard knocks while listening to this, the most current and penultimate Expanse novel (there’s another one coming at the end of next month, and yes, I’ll probably listen to it- might as well finish the damn thing, I’ve come this far).
There’s some cool stuff here. The scientist Elvi, from several books back, comes back and discovers a diamond the size of a star, some sort of enormous memory bank for the civilization that built the ring-gate network that has given humanity a set of shortcuts across the galaxy. The Laconians, a sort of paramilitary that took over humanity a few books back, try to blow it up, on the idea that could draw a response from some of the ancient godlike aliens that created the gates and/or killed the gate-creators, thereby opening a comms channel. It causes some freaky, time-dilating disasters. That’s kind of interesting.
But at the end of the day the book has more to do with the maneuverings and relations of boring characters than it does with cool space stuff. We gotta see what the space-dullards we’ve spent thousands and thousands of pages are up to! They’re resisting Laconia, duh, and the Laconians become more obviously evil, definitely non-preferable to whatever workaday exploiters the solar system previously had, confirming the good moral sense of Naomi, Alex, Bobbie and the gang. Chief perspective-dullard Holden, a real Harry Potter of a narrator but with all too many parents instead of too few, is at the center of the action, naturally, even though he’s supposed to be in exile. They do some resistance stuff and save some kids. One of the gang gets pseudo-alien-zombified, if you’ve played the classic RPG Deadlands think “harrowed” but scifi rather than horror-western themed. There’s some palace intrigue with a teenage girl and heir to the empire, which could be a cool concept but the Coreys (it’s a house name for two guys) are kind of phoning it in at this point. At least, unlike their maitre George R.R. Martin, they seem likely to finish their series.
By the end of it, the Laconian grip is tenuous, shit is all kinds of fucked, and it seems likely there will be a showdown between humanity and the alien god-killers that the Laconians provoked. I’ll say it- other than bare curiosity about where the genre is going, I will only care about the last installment, “Leviathan Falls” (recalling the title of the first book!! So long ago), if shit gets good and freaky with these aliens. And I want to — see — these fuckers, at least their ships. The Coreys aren’t Liu Cixin, they don’t get to keep the aliens offscreen (well, they’re nerd-famous, they could probably “get to” scribble their characters names onto the screenplay of “Serenity,” publish it, and make millions, but you know). For now, this was a diverting but mediocre read that promises more than it delivers, though this many books in, it’s more my fault than anybody else’s for buying. ***’