Book review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tangential foreshadowing from the Collected Sayings of Maud’Dib by the Princess Irulan.

After his dad is asked to take over keeping the oil supply flowing out of the Middle East, Paul, a promising MMA fighter, witnesses the death of his family and friends, narrowly escaping into the desert with his pregnant mother. Befriending a small band of freedom fighters, Paul becomes their holy leader and prophesied deliverer. Meanwhile, the military-industrial-complex of the infidel are trying to apply their bootheel to the impoverished desert people. Can Paul use guerrilla tactics to overthrow the infidel, become Emporer and bring jihad to the west?*

Okay, so Dune does predate the general cluster-truck that is the Middle East conflict, but you do have to wonder if Herbert was munching on a bit of spice for inspiration when writing.

Unlike some other sci-fi classics, Dune does hold up as a novel in the modern day. There are some aspects that mark this as a book of the 60s (e.g. anything related to women) but it isn’t as jarring thanks to the complex worldbuilding. A lot has been poured into this novel that had me marveling at the efforts involved for one book. And yes, I know about the sequels and expanded universe novels, but this was clearly written as an open-ended standalone.

I have previously tried the expanded universe books that were co-written by Kevin J Anderson and Herbert’s son Brian. They did not grab me. The amazing worldbuilding that defined many of the concepts of space opera sci-fi** didn’t appear to have enough legs for those novels. I’m glad I picked up the original Dune to understand what the fuss was all about.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…

** https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/dune-endures

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/30/frank-herbert-dune-at-50-sci-fi-masterpiece

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Book Review: Nemesis Games by James SA Corey

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let’s split up, we can cover more plot that way.

With the Rocinante in desperate need of repairs, Holden and the team take the chance to spend some time apart and do their own things. That goes swimmingly for them all. Between ships going missing, someone dropping rocks down the gravity well, people trying to blow them up, and the start of another war, they start to wish they’d never left the Roci.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (James SA Corey) have excelled themselves. In a series that has managed to serve up stories that don’t head in the direction you expect, here is a novel that takes the series in a direction you don’t expect. In hindsight, the plot for this fifth instalment is a logical one for The Expanse universe now that the Stargates have opened up a ‘goldrush’, but it wasn’t the step you expected. I expected to be covering the wave of frontiers people in their wagon-trains to the stars, but instead we cover the repercussions of that social change. A nice little twist. It was also great to have the entire Rocinante crew be viewpoint characters in this novel. For characters that have been with us from the beginning it was about time to get to know them all properly.

The only real downside of this novel is that I can’t just pick up the next instalment in the series to continue the adventure. I have now caught up. I have to wait 3 months for Babylon’s Ashes to hit the shelves. Guess I’ll read the novellas while I wait…

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Book review: Cibola Burn by James SA Corey

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I’m gonna need to shoot that guy at some point,” Ahhh, Mondays.

Book 4 of The Expanse series has Holden and the Rocinante crew sent to a new solar system as UN Negotiators. Displaced Belters have taken up residence on a newly discovered planet through one of the Stargates (they’ll always be Stargates to me), only to have an RCE research vessel arrive, necessitating Holden and Amos to smooth things out. They get along as well as you’d expect, but their conflict is the least of their problems.

Cibola Burn thoroughly impressed me. At a stage in the series where the quality would usually take a nosedive, James SA Corey has managed to keep it onwards and upwards. Part of this is giving us a great villain in Murtry; someone who is the antagonist but not necessarily the bad guy. The other part is that Corey’s plots are much more extensive than you initially expect. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about this aspect, in that the story starts off headed in one direction but ends up going somewhere else entirely. But I see this as a strength and a justification for a novel that cracks 600 pages.

I enjoyed Cibola Burn more than Abaddon’s Gate – although it was still a great read – and there are no signs that this series will rest on its laurels. I started the next instalment, Nemesis Games, immediately after finishing Cibola Burn: that should tell you everything you need to know.

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Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When most people die in space from sudden deceleration you’d think they’d install some airbags in spaceships. Safety first!

The third Expanse novel by James Corey sees Holden and his crew being manipulated into starting an interplanetary war. Since they now have a Stargate – I assume that name isn’t trademarked, or at least the Goa’uld won’t blast me for using it – the interplanetary war threatens to become an intergalactic war. Although war isn’t the correct term for advanced intelligences fighting people, the correct term would be genocide. Let’s see Holden talk his way out of this one.

Abaddon’s Gate was another great instalment in the Expanse series. The core characters are back and continuing to be grown and layered. The new viewpoint characters are also interesting, although they aren’t anywhere near as cool as Avasarala, a character that won’t be topped any time soon. The story also went in directions I wasn’t expecting, mainly due to the complex layering of plots. I’m tempted to call this the most ambitious of the Expanse novels so far, but my memory could just be on the fritz.

I’ve seen a few other reviews that suggested events and characters were a little too conveniently manoeuvred into place. I’d say the opposite is true and indicates that people will have to pay attention to the story and character developments. Some people clearly got a little lost.

Cibola Burn should be interesting now that they have the Stargate system to explore. I’m sure humans will try to make a mess of that somehow.

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Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the first time I’m actually interested in what is in The Juice. I’m betting The Juice doesn’t contain oranges.

Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in The Expanse series and follows two protagonists, Jim Holden and Joseph Miller. Holden hauls ice – not that kind – for the colonies spread throughout the solar system. He and his small crew inadvertently start a war when their ship is blown up. Meanwhile Miller is a detective trying to find a missing rich girl. Holden and Miller’s paths cross and they have to stop a war, and something even more dangerous, from destroying humanity.

It has been awhile since I’ve sunk my teeth into a space opera. The impetus to do so came from the SyFy series The Expanse, the first season of which is based upon Leviathan Wakes. For the first few weeks of the show I was matching pace with the TV and novel, but have finally pulled in front with my reading. I can highly recommend both the show and the novel.

There is a lot going on in the novel: it touches on elements of many genres (noir, mystery, hard sci-fi, etc); it maintains a brisk pace/tension; has elements of social and political commentary (anyone else notice the WikiLeaks ethos reference?); and combines some interesting characters with an interesting plot. As such, this is one of the better sci-fi novels I have read. I’m starting Caliban’s War, the sequel, today.

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