Written by

James S. A. Corey in 2014

The Expanse series is a great series, that blends exciting action, with a message of unity and tolerance. Cibola Burn is the continuation of the adventures of Captain James Holden, saviour of the world, the Rocinante, and his crew. Now though, the scope of the adventures our heroes are plunged into is larger, and the stakes, much higher.

After Abaddon’s Gate, in which thousands of new worlds were opened up through the protomolecule gate, hope and opportunity beckons to humanity, and humanity just can’t resist exploring and plundering the dead worlds. The first of the charted worlds, Ilus, or New Terra has been settled by squatters, many of whom were refugees from Ganymede, following the events of Caliban’s War.

No good story is without a dispute, and it arrives in the form of Royal Charter Energy, which has been granted a scientific and exploration license over Ilus. Naturally, the squatters think that they have the legitimate claim, since they were there first. So, to further their claim, the squatters decide that they will blow up the landing pad for the incoming shuttles carrying equipment before it can arrive. Unfortunately, that plan goes awry and many people are killed or injured as a result.

Holden and his crew are brought in as mediators between the two parties. He’s not helped on either side by the power mad and violent security chief of RCE, Murtry, and the equally violent and unrelenting Coop, who leads the insurgency against RCE. Caught in the middle, although unknowingly at the start, is the planet itself. As RCE explores and learns about Ilus, they realise that the entire planet has been geo-engineered to an enormous extent. A single continent, geometric chains of islands, natural looking satellites in unnatural orbits , and even artificial lifeforms, are all part of the landscape.

As the dispute over the territory intensifies between the squatters and the megacorporation, the planet throws its own, admittedly large spanner in the works: a massive fusion reactor explosion that destroys an island and forces the two sides to work together for their survival through a tsunami and massive rainstorm.

Cibola Burn, like its predecessors show us both the best and worst of human nature. The good bits are represented by characters like Holden and Avasarala, who try to hold the world(s) together, or mend it with some duct tape and glue when it does fall apart. The bad parts are represented by characters like Murtry, Koen and Coop, who let their prejudices and irrational hatreds to guide their actions. It also shows just how easy it is for humans to fall back on their tribal instincts, and have a dick waving contest, despite having the ability to travel the stars and become a truly interstellar society.

While some of the conflicts in Cibola Burn are slightly contrived, it is still a good story. This time though, instead of loud action sequences in space involving torpedos and giant space guns, the action is concentrated on the ground, involving fist fights and some much smaller hand guns. It still involves aliens though. Can’t go wrong with some aliens in a science fiction story. You get the sense that the universe is alien, hostile and unsympathetic, a wild and lawless frontier full of the ingredients of dreams and nightmares. It sets up a major story arc, much like Leviathan Wakes does in The Expanse universe, this time with consequences that reach further than anyone can grasp. Let’s hope the sequel lives up to the possibilities!


Pretty good, not as good as Caliban’s War or Leviathan Wakes, but you can see where this is going.

Should I read this?

Yes, it sets up an intriguing set of possibilities that could be explored rather well in the next couple of books.


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