Review: Cibola Burn

Posted: June 10, 2015 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: James S.A. Corey, Science Fiction

I was really excited when I got this book in the mail (which was forever ago, granted. Sorry this was soooo long in coming). Couldn’t wait to get back to Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Abraham and Franck really have a good thing going for them with this series. Not only is the series really good, the SyFy channel picked it up for a TV series and they’re spending oodles of money on it (more than they’ve spent on any other series before). Looks like it’s going to be absolutely fabulous too. In addition, the series is under contract through book 9. Oh. My. Goodness. Although I was just the teensiest bit perturbed at the fact that the initial release for new books in this series have been switched to hardbacks. A good sign for the authors and publishers, agreed; just not such a great deal for those of us that like to look at the complete series on our bookshelves and see continuity. But who am I kidding, the story is really the part that matters anyhow and it was freaking awesome.

CIBOLA BURN (Amazon) is a very different book from it predecessors, but it’s a very strong one for all of that. In the first three books of the series, we’ve seen some fairly major science fiction ideas that have driven each of the books in different directions. From the advent of the protomolecule and its digestive and reconstructive prowess, to the large-scale politics driving the populations of Earth, Mars, and that of the Belters, to the awesome power of the protomolucule-built portal and the opening of the hundreds of worlds behind it. This book takes a major change of pace, a major change of focus, and those changes were perfectly fine with me, as I love to see an occasional intense focus on character and viewing a microcosm of the greater-galaxy at large.

CIBOLA BURN, at its basic level, is a story that we’ve seen countless times in the Science Fiction genre: humans travel to a far-off planet and try to build a civilization there. However, the numerous levels of character interaction, story complexity, and raising of the stakes, makes this book so much better than any other story of this kind I’ve read before.

As with ABADDON’S GATE (EBR Review), a majority of the PoV characters in this story are new ones. Although, they’re not completely new, which is something I thought was really cool. Basia Merton is a settler on Ilus (the new planet, on the other side of one of the other gates in the Dandelion Sky we found at the end of ABADDON’S GATE). He’s also one of the fathers that we met near the beginning of CALIBAN’S WAR (EBR Review) that had lost their child to those playing with the protomolecule. Dimitri Havelock is head of security on the Edward Israel, a science-based ship in orbit above Ilus that has been sent by Royal Charter Energy to survey the planet, and was also partner to Detective Miller for a while back in LEVIATHAN WAKES (EBR Review). Those on the Edward Israel aren’t too happy about the settlers. The settlers aren’t too happy about them. Eli Okoye is one of the scientists from the Edward Israel that comes down to the surface of Ilus with the first drop ship. And then there’s Holden. You should probably know him by now though.

The story starts with a bang, literally, as a group of settlers including Basia, blow up the landing pad for the first shuttle coming down from the Edward Israel. Of course, things don’t go as planned and the shuttle comes early and it doesn’t end up too well for those on the shuttle, as you might guess. This little event doesn’t exactly start things off on the right foot for relationships between the settlers that got to Ilus first, but are technically squatting there illegally, and the science and security officers from the Edward Israel. Avasarala, an awesome character from the previous books, pulls some strings and gets Holden to be assigned as a mediator for the two groups, regardless of the fact that things are probably going to go down the crapper. Very quickly tensions, already high, escalate further and are mostly just helped along the way when old technology on the planet begins to wake up.

The pacing of this book just didn’t stop. After that first explosion things just got crazier and crazier. It seemed almost that everything was happening at once, from violence between the two human parties, to finding new flora and fauna on the planet (not all good for the humans), to the ancient alien technology waking up, to physics going bonkers again for a bit. Just one thing after another.

CIBOLA BURN is one of the books in the best Science Fiction series in the genre today. I don't know of any other that gets close.

Characterization was solid again, as usual. Some of the secondary characters were pretty simple, but that’s about what was needed for the story. The main characters were really done well, especially Basia and Holden. Elvi’s character did a great job of revealing the scientific obstacles that arose along with involving her own personal issues with the long-term cycle of her trip. Havelock, probably the weakest PoV of the book but still impressive, moved the story taking place in the orbital region of the planet where his ship, the Rocinante, and the Barbipicola, the settler’s transport ship containing mined previous metals that they’re planning to take off planet and sell, are in a very tense stalemate.

And amidst all this, a hidden presence. Perhaps the reason behind why all these new planets are empty. Creepy stuff.

As I mentioned earlier, this story will very likely be used as a microcosm for what will come in future books of the series. All the chaos and mayhem and craziness of this planet that seems pure and pristine and ripe for the picking of anyone that wants to run through the gates of the Dandelion Sky, but at the same time a wicked, sinister death trap in waiting. We see in detail on this planet what all could happen at each of the hundreds of planets now available to the people of our solar system as they spread through the gates.

This was easily one of my favorite books of the series. Basia’s journey from beginning to end was brilliantly well done, and probably my favorite this time around. This closely followed by Holden and the continuing realization that there is more out there to be afraid of than just the now seemingly defunct protomolecule and its horrific denizens.

This is easily the best science fiction series in the genre today, in my opinion. I don’t know of any other that gets close. If you love science fiction and all the fun goodness it holds, while still insisting on the love of character and story that is so often glossed over in this genre, pick up this series. You will love it.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: A fairly decent amount, across the board
  • Violence: Not very gory, but a pretty high level of violence, threat, and death
  • Sex: A few references, but there's not much time for dalliances in this one

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