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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Review: Caliban's War

Caliban's War is the sequel to Leviathan Wakes, and the second book in the Expanse series. It has much of the fun and flaws of the first novel: the characters don't really develop much, and the storyline while full of plotholes, is still compellingly readable.

The novel does a good job of summarizing the previous novel for those who skipped it, so you can jump right in. There will be several references that won't be understood, but by and large the plot doesn't need much of the back story as the characters are kept in ignorance of the grand plot anyway (which is being set up in this novel).

The crew of the Rociante are the central characters of the novel, though UN under secretary Avasarala also plays a major role in the story, explaining the politics of the situation.

Most of the story takes place on Ganymede, a station that supplies food for the rest of the outer solar system. We get some insight into what it takes to keep a sustainable ecosystem, and why such systems are prone to failure and fragile while being complex enough to be unpredictable. All that exposition falls away, however, as soon as the shooting starts, and once it starts, it pretty much never stops.

In many places, I wonder why humans bother with exploring space in manned vessels. I'm pretty sure that this novel, like many space operas, will seem quaint and out of date by the time the AI revolution is over. Manned weapons cannot keep up with AI-driven machines, any more than a human player will ever succeed against DeepMind at Go or any computer at Chess. Add to that the need for human-piloted machines (acknowledged in the novel) to stay below around 8gs and the first super-power to deploy AI machines will simply wipe the floor with all the others.

If you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you'll enjoy Caliban's War. In a world where sequels often disappoint, this is unusual and worthy of note, though not sufficient for me to rate this better than mildly recommended.

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