Abaddon’s Gate – James S A Corey

AbaddonsGatesmThat the discovery of the protomolecule changed the solar system is no longer a matter of philosophical point of view: beyond the political shifts, the military actions, the deaths, there are actual, measurable physical changes. Most obvious is the loss of Eros, transformed and thrown down into the atmosphere of Venus only for another artefact to rise from beneath that shroud of cloud and speed to beyond the orbit of Neptune where it formed itself into the Ring.

Between the Eros incident and the Ganymede incident, James Holden, Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton and Alex Kamal have survived two encounters with the protomolecule, and there is no desire among them to go near that part of the solar system where its remnants silently wait, that is until the Martian government begin legal proceedings to reclaim the Rocinante from beneath them.

The only option Jim has is to join a flotilla of ships heading to the Ring, and one of the conditions is that he allows a journalist, UN Public Broadcasting’s Monica Stuart, aboard along with her crew to interview them about their experiences.

On another ship headed the same way, Doctor Annushka Volovodov was surprised to be asked to speak for her small congregation on Europa in the coming discourse on what the Ring represents to humanity but is eager to make the best of the opportunity despite the separation from her family it necessitates. What Pastor Anna finds instead is political posturing and lobbying for votes, shrill voices and suicidal protesters.

Then there is Carlos c de Baca, Bull to his friends, the number of whom is dwindling as he is pressed into service as XO on the Outer Planets Authority warship Behemoth, then dropped to chief of security in favour of a more politically expedient candidate to preserve face in the forthcoming gathering at the Ring.

What nobody wants to hear is that the modifications to the Behemoth, a retrofitted generation ship formerly known as the Nauvoo commandeered from the Mormon sect during the Eros crisis, are largely cosmetic and that the weapons systems are liable to do as much damage to the ship as to any aggressors should a combat situation arise. Against orders, Bull must find a way to effect preventative maintenance en route to ensure the ship is ready for what awaits it.

And finally there is Melba Koh, the woman once known as Clarissa Melpomen Mao, last heir to what had been the Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile empire and fortune, now in ruins. For this she does not blame her father’s engineered genocide, she blames James Holden and the crew of the Rocinanate.

Where the first book of The Expanse, Leviathan Wakes, was business, and the second, Caliban’s War was politics, here religion comes into play as beliefs are challenged and faith is put to the test, and much of it comes to Anna, whose weapons are words, not bullets, finding herself at the fulcrum of events which could not have been foreseen when the wildcard of Clarissa Mao comes into play.

There are some minor missteps, as Anna questions what the existence of the protomolecule means for a moral god, even though it has been established that it was never – or so it is presumed – intended to infect anything above primordial soup, so unlike the Crusades it was in no way a calculated genocide, nor is Clarissa’s hope to whitewash genocide convincing.

What is offered is the first insight into the background of the protomolecule courtesy of Jim’s visitations from the apparently reconstructed but unhelpful and uncommunicative Josephus Miller, so while all the events and emotions fall exactly as they should when they are needed to there are surprises, shocks and twists along the way.

A new setting, the cusp of a new frontier and a new threat not only to the crew of the Roci but possibly all of humanity, everything is different but the sharply constructed prose which carries the plot breathlessly and the juggling of multiple characters, each with their own profoundly help opinions and incompatible goals is performed with the expertise with which readers have come to expect from Corey, and none are shortchanged as they are thrown into the explosive mix.

Abaddon’s Gate is available now from Orbit