When I started this science fiction series two years ago, I had only one complaint. In the opening scenes of Leviathan Wakes, I was introduced to Juliette Mao, a jiu jitsu-trained racing pilot who had run away from her corporate pig parents and was now kicking her way out of a storage locker on her hijacked ship. “Great!” I thought, “I am so ready to read about this woman’s adventures!” And then she died.
I sighed and continued reading about protagonists Jim Holden (cowboy in space) and Joe Miller (hard-boiled detective in space), and I enjoyed their fast-paced fight against an out-of-control weaponized protomolecule that zombifies biological matter. There were female characters in the background. And there were horrible creatures of both genders, or at least as far as one can tell with zombies. But I missed Julie Mao.
So I am happy to report that as the series goes on, it delivers the one thing I was missing: female characters who are as much fun to read about as the men. As the consequences of the protomolecule destabilize the political and military situation among Mars, Earth, and the outer planets, Caliban’s War introduces exactly the sort of heroine I was jonesing for in a space opera: Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie (Roberta) Draper of the Martian Congressional Republic Navy and the augmented military armor that makes her a juggernaut-class force to be reckoned with. (“Seriously. Get me a gun, I’m a soldier. Get that suit for me, I’m a superhero.”) And the strong female characters don’t just go in with guns blazing. As much as I adored Bobbie (“I don’t use sex as a weapon… I use weapons as weapons”), I was also rooting for Chrisjen Avasarala, a consummate politician who fights her battles with words. Most of them four-letter words. These women are among characters of both gender who are introduced as narrators as the series unfolds, but they’re one of the reasons this series really stands out for me.
By the third installment, Abaddon’s Gate, the protomolecule is possibly the least of humanity’s problems as various entities jockey for power at every level, from planets to individual ships. Vessels from antagonistic governments are converging on an enigmatic structure that has recently assembled itself on the outskirts of the solar system… and if there is a mystery gate to who-knows-where, and traveling through it could have dire and far-reaching consequences, then you know that Jim Holden, interplanetary whistleblower and accidental instigator of wars, is going to fly into it.
Frequent switches between viewpoint characters give the story momentum, and screenplay-ready dialogue lends the series the “blockbuster movie” quality quoted on the cover blurb. The dialogue and the shipboard dynamic aboard Holden’s Rocinante frequently remind me of Firefly; I can hear Zoe and Mal saying these lines. The space battles and chases feel very real, and space isn’t just a painted backdrop to this story. It’s a whole, hostile set of environmental factors and spins and gravities that shape different human cultures and affect the action. All this wrapped up in gorgeous cover art makes for a great summer read. The Expanse series is intended to continue, but Abaddon’s Gate wraps up the story so far pretty neatly, so that the three books already released can stand as a trilogy.
Check the WRL catalog for Leviathan Wakes
Check the WRL catalog for Caliban’s War
Check the WRL catalog for Abaddon’s Gate