Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey


So, with the third entry into this series, we end up with the equivalent of a bottle episode on a TV show. And what a bottle episode it was! This was one of those books that made me honestly anxious while reading, but yet I couldn't stop myself from wanting to know what happened next. Pair that with a new character I really loved a whole lot, and a general consideration of how people make decisions from inadequate information, and I was thoroughly hooked.

In this one, what's being created out beyond the orbit of...Saturn? of the outer planets? a gate, as authorities discover when someone tries to thread it at high speed and both disappears and is squished like a bug against his own windshield-equivalent. Soon, an uneasy coalition of planetary navies is headed that way, as is, of course, James Holden, being lured by visions of Millerplums dancing in his head. (Or, you know, his dead comrade Miller.)

Once on the other side of the gate, everything tries to hit the fan at once, except that maximum speed is drastically reduced, and other things happen that trigger automatic defenses in the station built by the insanely powerful very old species who built the protomolecule and the gate, and these cause mass casualties.

One of the main themes of this book is people acting without asking for permission. When some people do that, like Holden, we at least know we probably agree with his intentions, if not his methods. Likewise new character Anna, a minister for the Methodists, is prone to doing the same thing, although she is better at gathering information and taking ego out of the equation when she makes decisions. (This is not the same as saying her decisions are ego-less.)

More dramatic, but still not beyond the pale are those choices made by Bull, sent by Fred of OPA to keep the ship running smoothly under a captain who quickly becomes not only a liability, but a proof of the temptations inherent in the term "frag." Bull spaces someone early on, establishing his belief that his own actions are, if not moral, at least justifiable.

That brings us to Melba, aka Clarissa Mao, daughter of the disgraced corporate overlord who was a large part of why a lot of people died while he was trying to weaponize the protomolecule. She takes this to the extreme, having imbibed the rich person version of Kool-Aid (Champagne-Aid?) so thoroughly that she wants to kill James Holden for having hurt her father. And doesn't care who else she has to kill along the way, including those she would otherwise regard as friends.

Melba/Clarissa is the same sort of detached from a reality check that I complained about in Garden Spells, but I like it here, because her single-minded insistence that what she has been told since she was a child was right. Her inability to even talk to someone who might bring in a dissenting viewpoint is shown to make her, not just irrational, but murderously insane. Not necessarily beyond redemption, or so hopes Anna, but for a good portion of the book, a clear and present danger to everyone who stands in her way, involved or not.

As hinted by the previous paragraph, we also get themes of forgiveness, and also again, of ego, of whether or not we can experience trauma without the need to make it intentional. When a catastrophe happens, one of the other religious leaders translates it as a very clear message (possibly from God) with an order that must be obeyed, conflating what fear is telling him with a Divine will. Anna mourns, but has a relationship with the idea of God that is better able to incorporate complexity and inadequate information. It's a fascinating little side trip into the ways people interact with fear, with the Divine, and the self, and the divisions or conflations between them.

I read at least one bit of someone reacting to this book not liking that so much of it took place in confined quarters, but I think that was what I enjoyed the most. By making it, more or less, a bottle episode, we got to see these characters interact, and I was thoroughly engaged, although often highly stressed. In a good way.


  1. I agree...this was a really tense one and I enjoyed it a lot. Although I have to admit I was hoping for a happier outcome for at least one character. Oh well.

    1. Hmm! Which character? Bull?

    2. Yes!:) He really grew on me by the end. It seems to me the OPA kind of has a short supply of people with decent command/military skills; people that can sort of keep their heads about them, not just wanting to win at any cost, if you know what I mean. That whole scene on the bridge was crazy.