James S. A. Corey, who is actually two people but who I’ll be using the singular for anyway, has been costing me sleep lately. I gobbled up Cibola Burn in something like three or four chunks, and at least twice ended up staying up way past when I’d normally want to be asleep to keep reading. I finished the first hundred pages this morning before getting out of bed. Like, my morning piss had to wait.
It’s that kind of book, and one of the things that is interesting to me about it is that this really is the kind of book I want to write. I’m not interested in writing, say, Anathem, even though I thought Anathem was a great book. I want to write books that you finish in a day and a half because you don’t want to put them down. Anathem is complicated and multilayered and needs, at least for me, to be read slowly. I like slow books, I just don’t want to write them. And Cibola Burn is anything but a slow book. It’s pretty much a roller coaster ride from the jump.
(It also touches on a theme I’m working with for Skylights and Starlight, which was kind of frustrating– I have to wall off parts of my brain whenever stuff like that happens so I don’t end up inadvertently borrowing from it– but that’s my problem, not the book’s. That said, I’m really glad Skylights came out before I read this.)
You can sum the plot up in a few sentences: humanity has, through the events of the last three Expanse books, gained access to worlds outside our solar system for the first time. Speculators and settlers have raced ahead of the law to claim these worlds while governments back in our solar system argue over who owns rights to what. When the corporation that thinks they own a planet comes into conflict with the people who got there first, hijinks ensue, and the crew of the Rocinante are called in to mediate.
And then all sorts of shit happens, most of it life-threatening.
I loved the hell out of this book while I was reading it; I’ve read two Expanse books this year (I’m a book behind; the fifth is already out in hardcover) and both of them have been five-starred and put on my shortlist for the 10 best books list later in the year. My trouble with this one is that I’m finding that now that I’m done with the roller-coaster gotta-read-one-more-chapter rush, it’s already kind of sinking a bit in my estimation. There are a couple of problematic characters, for one; the villain is a bit too one-dimensional even though Corey does his/their best to have him explain his motivations, and there’s this one female character who…. whew.
Lemme put it this way: reading last night, with my wife just having turned off the light next to me, I woke her up to tell her she had to read all four of the Expanse books so that I could hear her reaction to the way one specific subplot involving this character was resolved. She’s awful, and she’s not awful in a good way at all, she’s awful in a “have you spoken with any women since the 1930s?” sort of way. What’s especially weird is that the series features a number of awesome women already so it’s difficult to understand how this one went so sideways.
But. One hell of a ride. And the weaknesses are of the sort that I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to them until after I finished the book, because must finish the book.
It’s a five-star right now. We’ll see how I feel in a week.