Book Review: Persepolis Rising

Although my recent review for book 6 of The Expanse series was scathing, it was an aberration in an otherwise fantastic series. Book 7, Persepolis Rising, returns to the adventure and style of the earlier novels.

Book 7 is set approximately thirty years after book 6. It is the first and substantial time-gap in the series. So why jump time? Only the authors known as James S.A. Corey can answer their motivations, but I’m happy to think on the subject for a few minutes.

In most of the writing I’ve done, I have a ‘fast forward x period’ too. It’s not an aspect of my own writing I particularly like, but it’s sometimes necessary. For me, it’s when I then want to show the reader the flow-on effects of an event without having a 600 page tome. It can also be about skipping the boring bits.

At the end of book 5 Earth has been bombarded by asteroids. Book 6 explores that theme a little more, but it’s already evident before that humanity is teetering on the brink of collapse. (As a disabled man, I understand that feeling well). Everything is in death throes; infrastructure is going to rapidly fall apart and the environment is on life-support…

All efforts are going to be trying to survive, and maybe help others that can be saved. It’s going to be pretty darn depressing without much happiness to go around. Even if the characters pull-off miraculous feats of heroism, nearly everyone is still going to die. It’s not so much a downward slide for humanity, more like a free-fall. That is a very hard context to write in (not to mention, read).

What about post-apocalyptic stories, they exist, right? Honestly I haven’t read many (my choice rather than a lack of availability). The only one I can recall is World War Z, which is a collection of short stories about the zombie apocalypse. With such limited reading, I can only fallback to television. In those stories it’s normally a band of survivors working together to stay alive… not pockets of humanity separated by millions of light years of empty space. Perhaps that is rich fodder for story telling for some, but I struggle to see how it would work.

I really enjoyed book 7 for how it portrayed that 30-year gap. This book is a great guide on how to do the passage of time well.

At the macro-level (in society):

  • For children born today, the Belt was the thing that tied all humanity together. Semantic drift and political change.

(Which is to say, the meaning and importance of things change. Semantic drift is also a lovely phrase, reminding me of how dunes gradually drift over decades).

In the age of inanimate objects:

  • but an atmospheric landing in a ship as old as the Rocinante wasn’t the trivial thing it had once been. Age showed up in unexpected ways. Things that had always worked before failed. It was something you prepared for as much as you could.

  In how character’s think and act:

  • Bobbie patted the words as she walked by and climbed onto the ladder lift that ran up the center of the ship. The Roci was at a very gentle 0.2 g braking burn, and there had been a time when riding the lift instead of climbing the ladder would have felt like admitting defeat, even if the ship was burning ten times that hard. But for the last couple years Bobbie’s joints had been giving her trouble, and proving to herself that she could make the climb had stopped mattering as much. It seemed to her that the real sign you were getting old was when you stopped needing to prove you weren’t getting old.
  • Decades of living and working in the same place meant you never had to ask for someone to pass the salt at galley time.
  • “My feet hurt,” Amos said. “Kind of all the time now. Glad these Belters keep the rotation at a third of a g.”
  • Bobbie felt the pressure of time slipping away like she was watching a door close, with her on the wrong side of it.

And then there are the characters I’ve grown to cherish, especially Amos:

  • It was easy to forget sometimes the depth of focus and intelligence behind Amos’ cheerful violence.
  • Amos’ voice had gone so flat, it might have been a badly written computer simulation of him. He was checking out of the conversation.
  • He didn’t need to see the amiable smile [on Amos’ face] to know it was there, and how little it meant.
  • From the way they talked, Holden could almost believe that they wouldn’t kill each other, given the chance. Almost, but not enough that he was sorry to be there. Maybe Katria really didn’t hold a grudge about the fight that Amos had started. And maybe Amos wasn’t spoiling to start another one. Or maybe the bomb was the most stable thing in the cart.

And Holden:

  • Holden was smiling like a salesman, as if his radiant goodwill could warm up every other interaction in the room.
  • The Holden she knew was a guy who drank too much coffee, got enthusiastic about weird things, and always seemed quietly worried that he would compromise his own idiosyncratic and unpredictable morality.
  • He didn’t look like anything more than an old ice bucker with a little too much curiosity and too little impulse control.

I also liked the beginning of the book which had this hooking quote early on:

“If you want to create a lasting, stable social order,” Duarte said, “only one person can ever be immortal.”

…and the way the book ended, where it wasn’t all a neat bow. (Which is unusual, and refreshing, for the series).

If you’ve read Persepolis Rising, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on it too.

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