A Feast of Reading

I’ve had several weeks holiday recently and read a number of fiction books. In this post I’ll provide some of my thoughts on them – some touched on briefly, and others with more detail. This list includes Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey, The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly and Murder Mile by Linda La Plante.

I couldn’t help myself, there are some spoilers.

The first book was Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, which I have previously blogged about.

I described it as “a blend of space-based detective novel with a light-dusting of military scifi”, but didn’t discuss the plot. However now I want to mention what I think is an incredibly smart plot arc of the first 3 books, so here’s a 2c summary of the first book.

Plot: A series of attacks by an unknown provocateur has Mars, Earth and the Outer Planet Alliance all blaming each other and posturing for war. The hostilities are only a distraction, designed to keep everyone’s eyes from an alien biological weapon which quickly infects an entire space station. The alien entity then begins to show sentience and propels the station towards Earth. Their attempts at destroying the infected station fail, but they manage to divert it to Venus instead – hoping that the hostile Venus environment will kill the alien entity.

In the writing world they say “ideas are cheap” (easy to come by). The alien presence in this book is similar to ideas I’ve had down for decades on the rest of the Vortex of Darkness series (Book 1 Vengeance Will Come available now). Kudos to them though; they wrote it first and superbly 🙂

Plot: Caliban’s War begins with a child being abducted on the food-planet Ganymede, just before a mystery creature attacks both Mars and UN (Earth) forces. The violence precipitates a shooting war in the space above, which results in the destruction of the Ganymede base. This becomes the second-round of diplomatic saber-rattling between Earth and Mars, with internal UN forces jockeying for power.

As mentioned briefly in my first post, one of the key things that stood out about this book was the increased amount of swearing. One character in particular (Avasarala) swears a lot. I can see why Corey made her so, because it impacts your opinion of her (and is a valid writing technique). Personally I found it to be a bit distracting and unpleasant in an otherwise excellent book.

A few of the things I’d like to mention:

  • I’ve previously written by a rule that said character names should not be too complex (i.e. hard to pronounce). This series seems to ignore my rule. I still think it’s a good rule.
  • Slow-burn character reveal. I like how we are not given a complete overview of a character’s motivation and background when first introduced. Instead, we’re given ration-sized tasters. For example: “The engineer, Amos, watched with the calm reserve of a professional killer. No surprise there.”
  • Good military-style detail on their behaviour: including movement-in-formation, comm discipline and the way they handle weapons.
  • Where there are occasional point-of-view shifts, they repeat a few seconds of action from the new POV, just to highlight the shift and time scale.
  • Some great lines:
    • The mask, he called it. As if the person she was when she faced the world was the false one, and the one who spoke to him or played painting games with her granddaughters was authentic. She thought he was wrong, but the fiction was so comforting that she had always played along.
    • She’d stopped looking tired a while ago and had moved on to whatever tired turns into when it became a lifestyle.
    • The secretary-general waved his hand in a lazy circle. He was in his early sixties and wore the decades with the elfin charm of a man untroubled by weighty thoughts.
    • The slow, grinding wheels of power had lifted him to celebrity, and his ability to appear to be listening lent him an air of gravity without the inconvenience of an opinion of his own.

It, like every chapter, has a brilliant ending which just makes you want to continue reading…

Abaddon’s Gate Plot: The alien thing which launched from Venus has turned itself into a giant ring. The forces of UN / Mars and the OPA are gathering around it, keen not to let any other faction stake a claim or gain an advantage. Under legal pressure, and unwittingly manipulated by an old enemy, Holden and the crew of the Roci are forced to enter the ring. Not to be outdone everyone else joins them. It’s going to take cooperation, and a mutiny or three to get everyone out safely. Without realising it, going into the ring puts the entire Milky Way in danger.

One of the things I noticed in this book was the way the different factions (UN [Earth], Mars, Outer Planets Alliance) all had derogatory terms for one another. OPA were known as “Belters” but also called “skinnies” due to the effects of living in zero-or-low gravity, Martians were called “dusters”. It’s a sad fact of humanity that we’ll always make up nicknames or derogatory terms for people who aren’t like us. This adds realism and a touch of depth to the stories.

As with all of the books there are some really funny lines:

  • When Holden pointed out that the Roci was already capable of accelerating fast enough to kill her crew and asked why they’d need to upgrade her, Amos had replied, “Because this shit is awesome.” Holden had just nodded and smiled and paid the bill.
  • He’s a pretty uniform surrounding vacuum.
  • the only thing she and Tilly had in common was their carbon base
  • “Nothing ever killed more people than being afraid to look like a sissy.”
  • Violence is what people do when they run out of good ideas. It’s attractive because it’s simple, it’s direct, it’s almost always available as an option. When you can’t think of a good rebuttal for your opponent’s argument, you can always punch them in the face.
  • “Oh. Well, when Amos is angry he’s the meanest, scariest person I’ve ever met, and he’d walk across a sea of corpses he personally created to help a friend. And one of his good friends just got murdered by the people who are going to be trying to take this office.”“I heard about that,” Anna said. “I’m sorry.”“Yes,” Holden said. “And the last people in the galaxy I’d want to be are the ones that are going to try and break in here to stop you. Amos doesn’t process grief well. It usually turns into anger or violence for him. I have a feeling he’s about to process the shit out of it on some Ashford loyalists.”

Some good/interesting words: Hephaestus, Eschatology, homeopathic, macerate, arroyo, labile, apropos, polyglot, inimitable, pachinko, genuflect.

Plot Wrap-up. I mentioned I wanted to talk about the overall plot arc. In summary the ending plot lines are this:

  1. Book 1: Alien presence, diverted from Earth goes to Venus
  2. Book 2: From Venus, something unknown launches
  3. Book 3: The unknown thing converts into a portal/ring/gateway, from which many other galaxies can be accessed.

Now what I think is brilliant is that each book is self-contained, the level of mystery/adventure/threat is always on the upward curve AND what a brilliant way to end the third book by saying “we can access multiple other galaxies”. What’s great about that is it enables the story to literally go anywhere. (And, oh, by the way, the aliens who we thought were super-advanced and going to kill us were actually terrified of, and wiped out by something else!)

I think it’s safe to say I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series, and will read them more than once.

Michael Connelly is an author I haven’t read before; given his sizable body of work I’m keen to read a few (and am lucky enough to have been given some!).

Plot: Harry Bosch, a part-time cop and PI is hired by an old, dying billionaire to locate a child and potential heir he abandoned as a young man. Of course vested interests don’t want an heir to be found… At the same time Harry is working on catching a serial rapist who is evolving into a murderer.

There are several things which I liked about this book:

  • Bait-and-switch with the plot lines – what you think is the main and sub plot lines end up being the opposite.
  • Subtle character development: there isn’t a really strong and drastic ‘character wound’; there’s just hints of that wound. In just a few sentences he talks about his experiences in the Vietnam War and is regularly thinking about his daughter’s safety.
  • Early misdirection has you suspecting the wrong people.

The one thing I didn’t like was a plot line which was a tension-builder in which nothing happened; it felt like a dark cloud that held no rain.

Overall though, an enjoyable book which leaves me looking forward to more of Connelly’s work.

I’ve not read Lynda La Plante before. Murder Mile is a prequel for the female detective Jane Tennison.

It is a who-dun-it serial murder investigation, set in the UK in 1979, featuring some duplicitous characters.

Have you read any of these books or authors? Agree or disagree with me? Anything to add?

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