Expanding universe

And while I am on a roll with re-read of The Expanse, I just read this:

The Expanse: Origins
by James S.A. Corey,  Hallie Lambert,  Georgia Lee,  Huang Danlan (Illustrator),  Triona Farrell (Illustrator),  Juan Useche (Illustrator),  Rahzzah (Illustrator) 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

As the title suggests, these are backstories of our favourite crew, set several years before the plot of the main storyline of the books.

Definitely a companion piece for fans of The Expanse. The characters are done in the image of the TV series. The artwork is pretty basic and not good. Why do media-tie ins always have such bad artwork? Is that an unwritten rule somewhere?

Jim Holden, Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal, Amos Burton and Miller each get a chapter. 

Holden‘s chapter was the weakest for me. It shows the end of his military career and is the least believable. ★★½☆☆
I really liked Naomi‘s chapter — strong story, I connected emotionally and it had Amos in it…. I love Amos! ★★★★★
Alex Kamal‘s chapter was surprisingly good, considering that he is my least favourite member of the Roci‘s crew. ★★★★☆
Amos‘s chapter was a little too wacky, sad and a little upsetting. ★★★½☆
And Miller‘s chapter didn‘t do much for me. This is a media tie-in to the TV series and his likeness to TV Miller was the least well done. ★★☆☆☆

You don‘t miss much, if you don‘t read this. If you don‘t know the series, don‘t bother with this. Watch the series first or, even better, read the books. They are a lot of fun!

City of Gold

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)
by James S.A. Corey, narrator: Jefferson Mays

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Whatever had built the protomolecule and fired it toward Earth back in the depths of time wasn’t answering calls anymore. The bridge builder had opened the way, and no great gods had come streaming through.

It was astounding, Bobbie thought, how quickly humanity could go from What unimaginable intelligence fashioned these soul-wrenching wonders? to Well, since they’re not here, can I have their stuff?

from the prologue

And that is the driving force behind this book. Let‘s finds the City of Gold and get all that stuff. Well, ok, the Belters go there as well to have a place of their own and a life free from the Inners. Then the rest show up to kick them out and try to get that stuff instead. And Avasarala sends Holden and company to mediate. Yes, crazy idea, right? It doesn‘t take long for the proverbial sh*t to hit the fan. Entertaining! On top of that we get a fascinating ecosystem, alien ruins, natural disasters, battles in space and more. Never a dull moment. This time around my mind wandered a little though, hence I knocked off a star from my first review.


First review from November 2017:

This is a solid addition to the Expanse. Another fairly straight forward story, not as twisty and with as memorable characters as Caliban’s War, but good stuff. My only grievance is the very formulaic aka always very similar plot construction.

Holden is a bit much at times, with his boy scout persona, but luckily he has Amos at his side to keep him ankered to the realities of life and death. Naomi and especially Alex could have gotten a little more page time. There is the now expected bunch of new and never to be seen again characters thrown into the mix.

The really bad guy is really bad and there is the also usual morally ambiguous character, that could fall either side of that line. Miller does his thing, we get unexpected plot twists and oh-shit situations and everything slowly goes to hell in a hand basket, also as in the previous books.

I really liked the natural history excursions. I’ll have one of those mimic lizards, please. Good sense of humour. The interludes are new. And odd. And interesting. And they didn’t end up in quite the direction I expected them to go.

All in all a good read, if somewhat repetitive in set-up/structure. Entertaining , but not mind blowing. Will I read the next book in the series? Absolutely.


Next up in The Expanse would be the short story The Churn (The Expanse, #0.2) and the next full novel Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5), which is one of my favourite books in the series. The short story should ideally be read before it, as it gives us the origin story of Amos Burton. Still, I am taking a break here and listen to a different audiobook first:

Klara and the Sun (Audible Audio)
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

from the blurb

I am not sure if I every actually read The Remains of the Day, I might mix it up with my memory of the movie. So, practically let‘s consider this my first Ishiguro.

When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half of the window. So we were able to watch the outside – the office workers hurrying by, the taxis, the runners, the tourists, Beggar Man and his dog, the lower part of the RPO Building. Once we were more settled, Manager allowed us to walk up to the front until we were right behind the window display, and then we could see how tall the RPO Building was. And if we were there at just the right time, we would see the Sun on his journey, crossing between the building tops from our side over to the RPO Building side.

first paragraph

So far, so good.

Empire not at peace yet

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2)
by Arkady Martine

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Long awaited, finally here. Slightly confusing prelude, but then it moved quickly into territory that felt familiar. Mahit is there and Three Seagrass shows up fairly quickly as well. Notable additions are Eight Antidote, the 11-year old heir apparent to the throne of Teixcalaan and clone of the deceased emperor and Nine Hibiscus, the yaotlek or rear admiral, leading the forces against the incomprehensible aliens invading the edges of known space.

We are exploring personal identity, cultural differences, politics, war crimes and the principle of proportionality, communication, first contact, concepts of self and collectivity and are scraping the edges of aztec culture.

This dragged tremendously for me. The writing is great, but it is just to wordy for my current disposition. I skimmed a lot from the middle onwards, otherwise I would never have finished this and would have eventually abandoned it. 

I like the author‘s dry sense of humour and tongue-in-cheek writing. The plot is fabulous, if somewhat smothered in the wordy navel-gazing and philosophical musings. The exploration of what constitutes a person, the workings of collective though processes, the thoughts on politics — great stuff. I just wish there would have been as much exploration of the plot. Which is good as it is, but could be so much more interesting, if it had received as much attention.

I liked the different POVs, Nine Hibiscus was a great addition. The chapters with Eight Antidote obviously were very important for the overall plot, but the little kite went on my nerves a bit with the aforementioned navel-gazing. I am assuming that the lack of attention to his safety and him running wild and doing improbable things for an 11-year old are intended as educational tools by his peer(s).

Some technical aspect that already seemed anachronistic in the first book popped up here again. Namely the infofiche sticks and lack of electronic mail or information exchange. I understand the concept of only hard matter moving through jump gates. Although I have no clue if it makes sense scientifically. Still, wouldn‘t it be a more organic development to send data by faster means from and to the jump gates? 

And then there is the loss of imago lines. A central driver of the story is Mahit‘s dilemma of not wanting her imago backed up on Lsel Station. Simultaneously the loss of imago lines, when pilots are lost, is lamented. Surely Mahit‘s consciousness wouldn‘t be the only one that gets backed-up on a regular basis?

I am so glad I am finally done, it was too overblown for me. I like my stories to be less contemplative and more action-driven. Planned as a duology, it feels as if a third book might be somewhere out there. At this point I am not sure if I would pick it up. ThirtyOne Adaptation signing off.

I received this free e-copy from Tor and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

First Line Friday, currently reading…

First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab your nearest book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.


I am currently reading:

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2)
by Arkady Martine

Finally, the sequel to Memory Called Empire

TO think—not language. To not think language. To think, we, and not have a tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths. To have discarded tongue-sounds where they are unsuitable.

first lines, Prelude

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)
by James S.A. Corey

My ongoing Expanse re-read, before the last book of the series, Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9),  comes out in October — fingers crossed!

A thousand worlds, Bobbie thought as the tube doors closed. And not just a thousand worlds. A thousand systems. Suns. Gas giants. Asteroid belts. Everything that humanity had spread to, a thousand times over.

first lines, Prologue

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (Kindle Edition)
by Sy Montgomery

Using my current, free Kindle Unlimited trial to read more about octopuses. Octopi? Whatever.

On a rare, warm day in mid-March, when the snow was melting into mud in New Hampshire, I traveled to Boston, where everyone was strolling along the harbor or sitting on benches licking ice cream cones. But I quit the blessed sunlight for the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium. I had a date with a giant Pacific octopus.

first lines, Chapter 1

Going through The Ring…

Abaddon’s Gate (Expanse, #3)
by James S.A. CoreyJefferson Mays (Narrator)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Ring, finally! And the battle I was looking forward to. Good reminder. Red and Peaches are the most interesting characters in this for me. Bull had completely disappeared from my memory, replaced by TV Drummer.


First read October 2017:

I wonder if our writing team follows a how-to-list for their books, something like….
1. boy or girl disappears / is kidnapped / dies and introduced a main plotline for the book doing so,
2. Holden shows up and contemplates his life,
3. Several new, possibly major characters show up, never to be seen again in the next book

I liked Anna, Clarissa, Bull, Sam, Serge…. Corey is good at making characters come to life. But, OMG, did Corey take writing hints from GRR Martin? 

I also liked the slightly time shifted chapters with alternating POVs, made it lively. 

The plot was more straight forward than in the previous two books, which makes it simpler, but dragged me along much faster, too.

Very good, really liked this book, looking forward to the next installment!


On the comics front I decided to read Battle Angel Alita Vol. 1 (Gunnm, #1)  next. Very good so far! Very nice artwork, great characters, good suspense…

1-F8-EB396-88-B8-4-F35-B015-9-C3-E4-C5-BEBBF

Finished! Finally!

The Prefect (Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, #1)
by Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

My second book by Reynolds, the other one being Blue Remembered Earth. I liked both. Both long and very dense, with elaborate world building.

On the surface this comes along as a police procedural in a SF setting. Dreyfus is a cop with a strong moral code of right and wrong, committed to justice. My first association was Miller from The Expanse, with a bit of Blade Runner and minus any projectile weapons. 

Space opera, ultimately, with the many and very varied habitats of the Glitter Band, artificial intelligences, body modifications, uplifted mammals, many political systems, states of being and an elaborate polling system — fascinating! Other authors would create a whole series with the ideas stuffed into this book. Granted, it took me forever to read this and it felt at least twice as long as it actually was. In a good way! 

Looking at some of the more extreme societies of the Glitter Band, one starts to question the benefits of absolute freedom. Freedom of choice without a moral framework; the ability to do what you want, as long as the majority agrees to it, can lead to interesting results.

Did I like the red thread? I did and I bought the reasoning behind it, although it came along as a little contrived and complicated at first. But all the sidelines and extraneous bits came together nicely in the end.

I am tempted to read the next book, Elysium Fire.

First I will read the short story though, Open and Shut, set between the two. Can be read for free here: https://www.gollancz.co.uk/news/2018/…


Some trivia:

The title of the book, The Prefect, was changed to Aurora Rising in a new release from 2017, to better fit with the sequel, Elysium Fire. More about that here

Reynolds‘ blog is brief. What was there was good to read. http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.com

Official author website: http://www.alastairreynolds.com

About my favourite tool, the whiphound
Excellent fan wiki here

Chugging away…

I am slowly making my way through my current reads.

In The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World (Comics) I finally reached a spot in the narrative that is new to me. I never got this far in the TV series. New territory from here on out! And tonight I took a trip down memory lane and rewatched the first episode of the TV series. It was fun!

I reached the last 100 pages of The Prefect (Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, #1). I like the book, but I am looking forward to finally finishing it. My motivation is flagging…

The Queen’s English: And How to Use It is turning out to be a drag. Useful, but the tone of the book is… patronizing?

So, what‘s on my plate for March? First of all I started the next Expanse audiobook.

Abaddon’s Gate (Expanse, #3)
by James S.A. Corey

I read this for the first time in October 2017. Here is what I had to say about it back then:

I wonder if our writing team follows a how-to-list for their books, something like….
1. boy or girl disappears / is kidnapped / dies and introduced a main plotline for the book doing so,
2. Holden shows up and contemplates his life,
3. Several new, possibly major characters show up, never to be seen again in the next book

I liked Anna, Clarissa, Bull, Sam, Serge…. Corey is good at making characters come to life. But, OMG, did Corey take writing hints from GRR Martin? I also liked the slightly time shifted chapters with alternating POVs, that made it very lively. The plot was more straight forward than in the previous two books, which makes it simpler, but dragged me along much faster, too.

Very good, really liked this book, looking forward to the next installment!


In print I have these three beauties planned:

Winter’s Orbit and A Desolation Called Peace are both slightly overdue Netgalleys that I plan to buddy read this month. For my #ReadPOC2021 challenge I will most likely read another very overdue Netgalley, David Mogo, Godhunter.

I haven‘t made up my mind yet, which of them I will pick up first, once I have finished The Prefect. Do you have any reading plans for March?

Caliban rebels against his master?

Caliban’s War (Expanse, #2)
by James S.A. Corey (Goodreads Author),  Jefferson Mays (Narrator) 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My Expanse re-read. I thoroughly enjoyed Avasarala, she is precious. She makes the book for me.

“Well, you’ve got a full load of torpedoes and bullets, three Martian warships trailing you, one angry old lady in tea withdrawal, and a Martian Marine who could probably kill you with your own teeth.“

Plenty of potty-mouth, several laughing-out-loud moments. And then there is Bobbie Draper, our second, great addition. The crew comes together, life on the Rocinante takes shape.

I had forgotten about Holden‘s suggestion of a group marriage as an option for shared ownership of the Roci. I wish the authors had taken the story in that direction, I think that could have added a really interesting angle.

In retrospect this feels like a middle book, adding just a little detail to the overarching plot and leading up to the larger events taking place in the next books.


1st read, audio, September 2017:

The continuation of Leviathan Wakes. Holden and his team work for the OPA and it just doesn’t feel right. They stumble across the proto-molecule again and get themselves a new search-and-rescue mission. And we get to meet three great, new characters. Two of those I hope we’ll meet again in further books: Bobbie Draper, the marine, and Chrisjen Avasarala, the kick-ass UN politician. 

The story was entertaining, the world building excellent, the characters mostly well developed. There were some plot points that I found confusing and not clear, but that might have been due to me getting distracted whilst listening to the audiobook. 

Good, solid storytelling, not the most inventive plot. Not as great as Leviathan Wakes, which was one of the best reads of my year so far. The cliffhanger at the end wasn’t exactly mind boggling. I had wondered all along, when he would show up again. What caught my attention, but was never mentioned again—Holden’s suggestion that they all get married to own the Rocinante together. I hope we’ll get back to that in the next book. I wouldn’t mind seeing the personal relationships between the Rocinante crew developed more fully.

Past and future Scalzi

I read my first and only book by Scalzi in 2017:

The Collapsing Empire
by John Scalzi

Maybe I should have picked another one. 20% into the book I was contemplating to DNF it. Mostly talk, talk, talk, not much plot or character development, interchangeable characters, little world building, a lot of swearing instead of decent dialogue.

30% into the book things finally started to get more interesting and by the halfway point I was hooked and wanted to find out everything. Still too much pointless swearing, but at least the plot was evolving.

In the end I liked this well enough and contemplated to get the sequel, which hadn‘t been published at that time. I never did.

I am not sure if I like Scalzi’s writing style. I liked his characterizations, eventually. The world building was interesting, but not as deep as I would have wished. It somehow all felt a little superficial to me. Not scientific enough, a little rambly at times, not as funny as it’s probably supposed to me. The over-the-top swearing of the Lagos family members made me think of overexcited teenagers.

“I’m continually confronted with the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant. And then for several days after that, too.”

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you.

I just checked and low-and-behold, there is a second and a third book and the audible version of book #2 is narrated by Wil Wheaton! No, I was not a fan of Wesley Crusher. Was anyone? But Wheaton evolved into this rather cool guy.

The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency, #2)
by John Scalzi

“Wil Wheaton narrates this space opera full of political intrigue and charismatic characters. […] Wheaton delivers an expressive narration using a humorous tone when needed and employing his acting talent to bring the characters to life. This audiobook is a treat not only for Wheaton’s fans but also for anyone who is into well-written science fiction.”

(AudioFile magazine) — taken from the audiobook‘s Amazon page

My inner Trekkie rejoices! I am very, very tempted. I just have to find a good plot summary of the first book to jog my memory.

Yes, I do have Redshirts on my TBR pile!

Leviathan reawakened

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1)
by James S.A. Corey,  Jefferson Mays (Narrator) 

Re-read, because I just watched season 5 of The Expanse on TV and felt the urge to refresh my memory. And to maybe immerse myself more deeply again, before the last book comes out. I doubt I will manage to get through all of the books until then, but it will be fun either way.

There is definitely a difference. The first time around I read the ebook, now I am listening to the audiobook. This time around I have the visuals from the TV adaptation in my head, which didn‘t exist back then. Especially Miller is a much stronger presence, because I am a Thomas Jane fan.

First time around I found Holden to be very naive and it bothered me, how clueless he seemed to be about his transmissions into the void and how they affected the world at large. Now I wasn‘t half as bothered, because I know what happens later.

I am still pretty happy with this as a starting point for a really excellent space opera series with very well thought out world building. Jim, Naomi, Amos, Alex, Bobbie and Avasarala will stay with me for a very long time.


My review of the 1st read in 2017 (ebook):

„Living on the surface of a planet, mass sucking at every bone and muscle, and nothing but gravity to keep your air close, seemed like a fast path to crazy.“

Excellent world building! By chapter four I was reading up on the solar system, inner and outer planets, the asteroid belt, dwarf planets… well-done sci-fi, without going too hardcore. And some crime noir thrown in…

“You are under arrest for the murder of that lady over there, whoever the hell she is. You are not required to participate in questioning without the presence of an attorney or union representative, and if you so much as look at me wrong, I’ll space you. Do we understand each other?” 

I like Miller, a disillusioned cop on a moon in the belt, he is an engaging character. POV alternates between him and Holden, a naive and blue-eyed XO on a water hauler. At first glance this is a mix of crime novel, colony politics and military SF / space opera. But the plot takes it many different places. From disillusioned cop to Alien horror story to submarine-like space battles. Fun, fun, fun. 

The other characters populating this book were just as entertaining. Alex and Amos could always sign up with the circus, if being space pirates doesn’t work out in the end.

“Goddamn, Boss, I’d give my left nut for food that didn’t look like a dildo,” Amos said, then tapped his food against Naomi’s in mock toast.

Excellent stuff. Imaginative, twisty plot, swamped with fully realized settings that could have filled several books. Great character development. Good humour and dialogue, interesting concepts and ideas, all around excellent book.

Extra points for quoting Dune! Now move along and find a review that does a much better job at describing this book than I could… Meanwhile I will find myself a copy of the next book in the series and maybe try to rustle up the TV adaptation.