Book Review: CALIBAN’S WAR by James S.A. Corey

Calibans WarCaliban’s War, the second book in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series is at times the best Space Opera I’ve read, and in others hard to keep reading. It took me ten months to finish. Part of that could be that the ending was partially spoiled, another because it is a big book to lug around. There is an element to the story telling that contributed to the ten month span, but it’s hard to put my finger on.

George R.R. Martin calls this Space Opera the way it should be written. In many ways I agree, this is as professional and realistic as one could ask for in a story about futuristic, interplanetary battles. The power struggle between Earth, Mars, Belters and the strange, alien monster is both well-thought out and epic in consequence. This is humanity in the next age struggling to survive and I love experiencing their time. On the other hand, I often found myself on the verge of boredom, wading through lines of reasoning, science, military strategy, etc. I wouldn’t take these parts out because this aspect is one of the traits of James S.A. Corey’s series that makes it so lifelike, but it does show me the kind of fiction I prefer is one with less talk and details and more on surprises and action. Most of the dialogue is very well done, and is one of his sharper tools for building his unique characters, so when I say I prefer less talking, I mean I prefer less of the boardroom planning type scenes, of which there seems to be many. I’m okay with characters discussing what they should do and politicians talking through both sides of their mouth (is that the right idiom?), but the way it is done in this book sometimes left me apt to put the book down instead of on the edge of my seat to find out what would happen. Some of these sessions ended with the sense that the writer was working from an outline and needed to show me the pieces fitting together, and other times I enjoyed conclusions I didn’t see coming.

My favorite aspect to Corey’s fiction is the action scenes. They are fast, real, detailed and pulse-pounding. In Caliban’s War, our mysterious alien invades a planet; our heroes break into a lab with pieces of the same Alien-type monster, their ship is breached, and eventually they will find a larger source of this monster and the vomit zombies it produces. All of these scenes were well done, but they often felt overshadowed by the talking that took place before and after.

Leviathan WakesTo compare endings between the first book, Leviathan Wakes, and Caliban’s War, I’d give the nod to Leviathan as having a greater climax and punch to the gut both emotionally and in how it expands the conflict and scope for the next book. Caliban’s has that, but the action at the end was not that great—it felt too quick—and the emotional response wasn’t as much as I want from investing in this large of a book and series.

To pick three stars would indicate too much that this is an inferior book. It is not. Where it didn’t work for me is purely subjective. I am excited to read more books in this series and at times I was really impressed and enjoying myself. The characters are real and the whammy at the end of this book means I have to pick up the next, Abaddon’s Gate, and see what they do in light of the new conflict. The fourth book in this series, Cibola Burn, releases June 5.
Timothy C. Ward
Executive Producer

Timothy C. Ward has been podcasting since 2010, first as AudioTim, and now with AISFP. His first publication, Cornhusker: Demon Gene (A Short Story), is available on Kindle for $.99. His novel in progress, Order After Dark, is a Post-apocalyptic Fantasy set in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Sign up to his author newsletter for updates on new releases.

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About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a former Executive Producer for AISFP. His debut novel, Scavenger: Evolution, blends Dune with Alien in a thriller where sand divers uncover death and evolution within America's buried fortresses. Sign up to his author newsletter for updates on new releases.

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  1. Jordan says:

    I think each subsequent book in the series improves upon the last. This is easily my favorite SF series, though Corey has yet to write an amazing standalone book, and so Alastair Reynolds is still my favorite SF writer.

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