Nemesis Games

This post is about my thoughts and favourite quotes from Nemesis Games by the authors known as James S A Corey. Nemesis Games is book five of The Expanse series. (It’s pretty much spoiler-free).

(My similar posts on earlier books in the series can be found here: Leviathan Wakes, Leviathan Wakes #2 – Caliban’s War – Abbadon’s Gate, and Cibola Burn).

Nemesis Games was an enjoyable ride; and I suspect, will be re-read in the future. One of the things that I loved about this novel was it took the reader in a new direction. Whimsically put, it asked the eternal question of ‘what happens to the cowboy, when you take away his horse?’

For the past four novels we’ve had the crew of the “Roci” flying around together, saving the day. Sometimes it was fending off the life-destroying advances of an alien organism and other times hampering the plans of Dr Evils. Often both at the same time. The important point was it always the crew working together: Alex piloting with finesse, Naomi fixing stuff, Amos breaking heads and Holden being optimistic and drinking coffee. The crew did their thing and the good guys one, even if it took a toll on them and the ship in the process. So what happens while their beloved ride, home and useful giant-gun, the Roci, is spending quality time in the ‘dry dock’?

“The construction sphere of Tycho Station glittered around Holden, brighter than stars. Ships hung in their berths in all states of undress, the Rocinante just one among many.”

First Amos had “a thing” to do back on Earth. Then Alex wanted to go to Mars to apologise to his ex, and Naomi has an urgent, private and dangerous trip she needs to make to Ceres station. Holden finds himself alone on Tycho. This book is one where their personal universes do somersaults. They’re separated and each trying to do the best they can alone; they’re a close knit family, separated by hundreds of millions of miles of space. Each of the crew get their own point-of-view, which is cool to spend time in their heads.

Back in the first book, Holden comments on the fact that they’re all on the ice hauler, the Canterbury, because everyone has a past. No one with their level of competency signs up for the grueling dead-end job unless they were running from something. In this novel Corey peels back layers of each crew member’s past.

One thing that strikes me upon reflection is how I feel about the characters. I have a greater sense of warmth toward them, at only book 5, than I did toward Rand et al in the 14 books of the Wheel of Time. Why is that? I think part of it is because in WOT the characters are often working against each other, at least somewhat. Whether it’s their personality or the conflicts of their occupations, they aren’t one big happy family. The team of the Roci, meanwhile, is always fiercely guarding each other… which is part of what endears them to me. Perhaps that’s unfair, given they are often separated from each other? Maybe it’s the genre. In WOT, fantasy, the characters are powerful, and perhaps more un-relatable. In The Expanse they’re all ‘human’, with no super powers, and therefore more relatable.

The world that Corey has created is futuristic: technology changes things, big and small. The languages, idioms and behaviours have all developed over time. For example, on Earth, “pimps” are now “walkers”. It’s a clever technique of writing – making the culture shift slight enough to be different without losing the association the reader will place on it.

Another important thing I noted is that there should always be edge cases when humans are involved. What do I mean by that? If disaster is coming not everyone will choose to move out of it’s way. People are complex. Sometimes we even make irrational decisions (or at least they appear to be so). Making world’s real mean that sometimes a few people should act in surprising way. We may be herd animals to a degree, but there should always be outliers.

My favourite highlights:

  • the mythology of manifest destiny hides a lot of tragedy.
  • Amos laughed. “Let me get a preemptive I – told – you – so in here. Since when that turns out not to be true, like it always does, I might not be there to say it.”
  • The long – haul transport was named the Lazy Songbird, but its birdlike qualities began and ended at the white letters painted on its side. From the outside, it looked like a giant garbage can with a drive cone on one end and a tiny ops deck on the other. From the inside, it looked like the inside of a giant garbage can except that it was divided into twelve decks, fifty people to a deck.
  • He worked his face for a minute, trying to find a version of his smile that didn’t scare little old men.
  • the last vestiges of youth falling from her and the first comfortable heft of middle age creeping in.
  • It felt a little like watching a hunting cat track a steak.
  • The words seemed to carry more nuance than they could bear, as if the simple logistical facts also meant something about why she’d left. About who they were to each other. It was like she could feel the words creaking…
  • Alex’s experience of real family – of blood relations – was more like having a lot of people who had all wound up on the same mailing list without knowing quite why they signed up for it.
  • “What did you do? ” Fred asked.
    “There was a button,” Holden said. “I pushed it.”
    “J*** C***. That really is how you go through life, isn’t it?”
  • The guard’s head hung slack and boneless in a way that clarified the situation.
  • The aliens that sent the protomolecule hadn’t needed to destroy humanity. They’d given humans the opportunity to destroy themselves, and as a species, they’d leaped on it.
  • Thing about civilization, it’s what keeps people civil. You get rid of one, you can’t count on the other.”
  • She rattled down the hallway like dice in a cup,
  • In the hangar, the Razorback hung in clamps built to accommodate ships much larger than she was. It was like seeing an industrial lathe with a toothpick in it.
  • But looking back through history, there are a lot more men who thought they were Alexander the Great than men who actually were.
  • “Can I get you one?”
    “More of a tea man, myself,” the other captain said. “If that’s an option.”
    “Don’t know that I’ve ever tried.”
    “No? ”
    “There was always coffee.”
  • “Thank you, Mister Patel,” Holden said. “In thanks, you may now have all my stuff. I don’t care about any of it anymore.”
    “Including the coffee maker, sir?”
    “Almost all my stuff.”
  • A funeral shroud was over the planet, and they all knew what was happening beneath it.
  • “How bad does that look?”
    “We’re not making any official statements, especially when James Holden’s in the room. No offense, but your track record for blurting information at inopportune moments is the stuff of legend.”
    “I’m getting better about that,” Holden said. “But yeah. I understand.”

And some good words: sclera, maw, gobbets, malefic, atavistic, taupe, albedo, substrate, wheedling, feckless, supine.

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