I have been reading some trashy scifi again!
So, The Expanse, namely Caliban’s War and Abbadon’s Gate.
It keeps being consistently alright. Quintessential 7/10 scifi thrillers as far as I am concerned. I maintain everything I’ve said in my comments about the first book. It’s still shock full of tropes, though I’m very glad Miller is gone as a character (I was starting to get incredibly annoyed at the whole “noir detective in space” shtick). The qualities of these books are also their flaws. The Expanse books are incredibly dense in terms of sheer amount of stuff happening. There’s things happening constantly in this books, especially Abbadon’s gate. Neither the reader nor the characters ever catch a break. This makes these books quite the page turner, but in return also makes them feel very…mechanical, so to speak? It sort of applies Chekhov’s gun to the extreme. Any detail that is going to be mentioned will be used at one point, despite being 600 pages long there’s no “fat” in the books, i.e every single mentioned character or object is gonna be used by the plot. Given that it still is relatively hard sci-fi it sometimes leads to rather interesting “I guessed that!” moments : for instance there’s a whole moment where they describe how the Behemoth’s centrifugal ring systems work, and it definitely was a “aha, I knew it!” moment for me when they used that 350 pages later.
But…it’s a bit cold, isn’t it? I still get the impression that these books were written to be the perfect scifi thriller. You never catch a breath and neither do the characters. It’s constantly “go there, do that, oh but there’s this unexpected thing, let’s go there and do that now” and it never stops, and everyone is constantly on edge, and there’s always more stuff and…it’s sort of exhausting. The characters don’t really have time to develop, especially as I sometimes get the annoying impression that some side characters only exist because they are meant to do a specific thing at one point. And it does give off the vibe of a very utilitarian book, so to speak, where absolutely nothing is gratuitous, but where there’s almost no room for small asides, peaceful moments or just gratuitous things. It’s the anti-Mars Trilogy.
Basically I get the feeling these books have been written by two of these clever Internet guys who keep complaining that “this event was not properly foreshadowed” or “why do you mention something if you’re not using it” and have a complete document made of TvTropes references, and watch Cinemasins. What they write isn’t bad, but it’s sort of soulless in the end.
Still, there are some interesting characters : if Holden and his crew are one-dimensional as ever, I really enjoyed Anna (pretty rare to find religious people, especially christian priests, portrayed in a good light in mainstream hard scifi, I notice) and would have gladly spent an entire book with her - precisely because she’s got sort of a passive role at the beginning which makes her one of the only PoV characters that’s not only defined by her actions but also by how she sees the world.
The aliens have lost most of their interest the moment they started 1) talking at Holden, 2) attacking humans and 3) generally speaking being shown. They’re also totally the Protheans now.
In my quest for entertainingly silly scifi I’ve finally read the Mass Effect books that were lying on my shelf since I’ve bought ME3 (that was…a while ago), namely the books that end in -tion and have been written by Drew Karpyshyn (Retorsion, Ascension, Revelation) and oh boy oh boy they aren’t very good. In many ways they suffer from the same issues as the Expanse books in that they are meant to be efficient thrillers but describe very little things and end up feeling very generic - a shame given how Mass Effect does have a distinct identity, which albeit primarily visual could be translated in a book, I think (I know, ME didn’t invent anything, but still, it is more than the sum of its inspirations).
They’re typical of video game tie-in books in that they don’t explain or bring anything that couldn’t be explained by a few lines of dialogue in the game and because they have to exist between the games none of what they tell has much of an impact on the world. Saren was a bastard, the Illusive Man is a bastard, Cerberus plays with Reaper tech, Omega is a cesspit and Quarians are weird.
Ok. Didn’t need a book for that.
For one of the lead writers of the game Karpyshyn seems to have a strange grasp on his universe. The Mass Effect world seems to be the Citadel, Omega and a few nondescript random worlds to him, which is weird because books like that should be the opportunity to explore places where Shepard didn’t go for reasons, but no. More problematic is how he treats some aspects of the world. For instance Karphyshyn seems to have 0 idea what to do with the Asari : though Turian and Krogan characters are all over the books, there are two named Asari characters in them, one of them being Aria T’loak (I mean I like her but she’s Jabba the Hutt with a more pleasant face) and the other an Asari whose only character trait is that…she’s good at fucking humans? Seriously?
Also Karpyshyn did write Kai Leng and Cerberus being suddenly omnipotent for no reason as it appeared in Retorsion so this sort of undermines the idea that his dark matter plot would have saved everything : if he had no idea how to properly write Cerberus I don’t have hopes for the rest.
Completely forgettable books.