Review: Caliban’s War

Posted: July 27, 2012 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: James S.A. Corey, Science Fiction

Where are the great Science Fiction series? It seems like there are dozens of fantasy series out there. A new fantasy book doesn’t come out that isn’t part of a series. It’s actually getting the fantasy authors to finish their series that’s the problem now a days. But Science Fiction? Where are the series? You could make a case for a few. John Scalzi has written at least four books in his Old Man’s War universe–depending on how you count THE SAGAN DIARY (Amazon) and QUESTIONS FOR A SOLDIER (Amazon). Robert Charles Wilson just last year wrote the last book in his Spin “trilogy”. But neither of them was a series. A book would come out and it would be a self-contained story written in the same universe. Neither were set up from the beginning to be a small part of something larger.

Good thing we have The Expanse.

CALIBAN’S WAR (Amazon), which is the book we’re reviewing here just in case you didn’t know, is the second book in The Expanse, and the sequel to last year’s excellent LEVIATHAN WAKES (EBR Review). LEVIATHAN WAKES was great and was amazing. It is currently on the Hugo nominee ballot for Best Novel, and was such a success that Orbit (the publisher of the series) ordered three more books and a series of novelettes. That means we’re getting (as best as I can count) six books in the series.

Folks, that’s good freaking news, cause this series rocks!

I’m gonna talk about the book now, which will inevitably spoil the previous book. So if you haven’t read LEVIATHAN WAKES, STOP READING! You’ve been warned.

CALIBAN’S WAR picks up a year after LEVIATHAN WAKES left off. The protomolecule has crashed into Venus and strange structures are sprouting up out of the atmosphere. Tensions between Earth, Mars and the newly former Outer Planet Alliance are high. On Ganymede a strange creature tears through a unit of Martian and Earther soldiers possibly sparking a war. Instead of just two viewpoints as was the case in LEVIATHAN WAKES, here we have four. Jim Holden is back, leading his crew trying to figure out what is going on with this strange creature and generally making a nuisance of himself. He is joined this time by Bobbie who is the lone surviving soldier when the creature attack. Avasarala, a diplomat from earth trying to keep the sides from war and figure out what is really happening. And Prax a scientist on Ganymede who, in the wake of the creatures attack and the disaster that follows, is trying to find his daughter who may be the key to everything that is going on.

CALIBAN'S WAR continues the story of Holden and the solar system and sets us up for some seriously awesome stuff in future installments.

I’m gonna come right out and say this. I think Daniel Abraham is setting the standard for the industry right now. His fantasy book THE KING’S BLOOD (EBR Review), which is book two in his fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin, was probably the best thing I’ve read this year. He also co-wrote this book with a friend of his Ty Frank–they write together under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey. So he is writing some of the best fantasy series and the best SF series out there.

This guy is unstoppable.

My review of THE KING’S BLOOD could almost just be copied and pasted here with some of the names changed. What Abraham did so well in that book, he and Ty Frank do just as well here. The characters are well thought out and interesting. They feel like people making real decisions, and most of the time the enjoyment in the books comes from watching those decisions have effects on other characters. The interplay between the viewpoints is a joy. The world we got a glimpse of in LEVIATHAN WAKES just got a bigger and more interesting. It all works.

That being said, I’m not sure I liked it as much as its predecessor. The book is good, it set up some truly big and wonderful things, but it felt more like a set up book than a payoff. It was good and great and I love the series, but the stakes seemed a bit higher last time around and the action a bit more intense.

Those are small problems really. The book is still great, the series advancing wonderfully. And as for the ending? I won’t spoil it here, but when my dad finished reading the book (he finished a day or so before me) he called me right away wanting to talk about it. He’s certainly set us up for something special.

  • Recommended Age: 14+ Depending on how you take to the language. There’s a fair bit of it in here.
  • Language: A lot. Three fourths of the time there’s nothing there, but one character likes to swear like a sailor and she does it well.
  • Violence: A bit but not much. A few scenes of monster action and a few other standoffs.
  • Sex: Referenced more than shown and not much


  • Peter says:

    I too enjoyed both books in the Expanse series. I just finished the first of The Dagger and the Coin series and will pick up book 2 within a month.

    Considering your comment, “Daniel Abraham is setting the standard for the industry right now,” I will also mention that he wrote a graphic novel version of an obscure book called Game of Thrones. Another finger in the pot!

    Nice blog — I have it on my feed reader.

    • Shawn Boyles says:

      Glad you;re enjoying our reviews.
      I did know that Abraham was doing the comic version of Game of Thrones but I haven't read it. Truth be told I still haven't read Game of Thrones. I need to find a spare month or two to get myself caught up in that series and it just hasn't happened yet.

  • mtbikemom says:

    Shawn, there are better ways to spend one's time than to corrupt your soul with G of T, in my opinion. The emperor has ugly, soiled clothes, I say, and damn the consequences. If I could write like GRR, I would seek to add something life-affirming and wholesome to the universe, but that's just me. I would just watch the SNL take on the HBO show and be done with it if I were you. Satire speaks!

    Something like this series and everything flowing from the pen of Daniel Abraham in all his incarnations, I much prefer. I can't wait to read this. There is always a depth of understanding of the human condition in his books and short stories that cannot be faked or forced. It has to be won through real life experience, really caring for people in the real world. There just has to be some warmth and hope to balance the bleakness in modern sf/f. Otherwise, well, what is the point?

    • Shawn Boyles says:

      Wow! Not a fan of GRR huh? I agree with what you say about abraham though. There is something about his characters and their reactions that feels real. I don't always love his characters but I can certainly understand them. Thanks.

    • Vanessa says:

      I'm gonna have to agree with mtbikemom for the same reasons she states. Martin is certainly an amazing author, with a command of story/character/setting that is amazing to behold. Unfortunately the content is brutal. I don't think I've ever recommended GoT to anyone, and have had to steer away friends/family who are fainter of stomach than the rest of us.

    • multiman says:

      You're all crazy. GOT is the greatest series ever. To not recommend it is shameful. To review books and not have read is just plain ignorant.

  • Andrew Jones says:

    I managed to finish Leviathan Wakes, and eventually started on Caliban’s War. I just couldn’t finish it. Only a few chapters in, and at least three people have, quite reasonably, told us the chief protagonist is an idiot. Frankly, as he’s always being countermanded and has been unable to do anything without being rescued, I’m hard pressed to disagree.

    Then, there’s the mustache problem. Apparently, villains in this series all have giant mustaches and insist on constantly twirling them. The first book had a bad buy who ran a space station prison for genius violent sociopath scientific researchers. Frankly, I had to imagine cortex bombs and mind reading computers to make it plausible that such people would could be given nano and microbe tech research equipment and not be more trouble than they’re worth as prisoners.
    However, this book goes better. The twirling begins with every shipping company concluding it would be a good idea to starve its suppliers to the point that food riots break out. These suppliers actually supply food, for everyone in the area. Yes, the genius evil guys have decided to starve out the people who are feeding them. We are told they are shipping food, into space, across the system, and to an area of normal demand, for profit. Why they don’t just save the gas and sell it back to the colony, I assume has something to do with the mustaches.
    Now, in the defense of the Evil Corporations, everyone I know who produces any food, has food stored for emergency. Not so here. Apparently, these space farmers, in the face of a disaster, have no food, and decided to ship all of what they had to warehouses. The starving warehouse workers, put it on ships. Yes, the farmers lost their farm, but designing a single point of failure for your food supply is Darwin Award stupid. It’s entirely possible that this was some sort of eugenics test by the Evil Corporation to weed out people too stupid to feed themselves when they MAKE THE FOOD.
    Seriously, we spend half of the first few chapters following a starving farmer looking for his kid. He wanders a station watching the hydroponics system degrade because people are panicked and starving. Yes, the original farm dome went boom, but that doesn’t change that the entire station is literally lined with farm. I run a hydroponics garden in my living room that grows spinach like crazy, and a space colony with FOOD as a chief export is starving.

    Maybe this is a great series, but the people driving the story seem paralyzingly stupid to me.

    • Writer Dan says:

      Eh. Maybe the story isn’t for you then. It’s too bad though, really, that you can’t look past the details of the world these two have built and enjoy the story that’s at the heart of this series. In my experience, a lot of things are messed up in the world and nothing really goes to plan, especially when the scale begins to get large. For me, I enjoy the story enough that I get absorbed into what is happening rather than trying to make sense of why the book’s world is the way it is. Does make me curious though: What books are some of your favorites? Would be interesting for me to make a comparison between this series and those that stand up to your standard of goodness.

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