Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey

It’s no secret at this point that James S. A. Corey is the pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. It’s also no secret they are telling a story that is going places.

In the first novel we were introduced  to a noir detective story set in the backdrop of space in a solar system rife with political strife and machinations and filled to the brim with people living in asteroids and moons. The second gave us a political thriller with three political factions fighting over an alien technology that they really didn’t understand and had no hope of controlling.

This third volume is more of an adventure yarn with squabbling governments and cryptic alien discoveries.

The series is tied together by the constant recurrence of James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. They are the only recurring character in each book and have been some of the least interesting characters of each book so far. In this third volume they finally start to develop some actual character that is beyond the broad-brush stereotypes that they have been given. Each book introduces new character points of view in order to make the solar system seem bigger and more populated. Each of those new characters leaps right off the page and becomes more powerful and interesting than the main crew that share each book with them. Holden especially started out as a bland naive do-gooder who screwed things up by being too trusting in the common good.

In this book he finally starts to make decisions that make sense, it still screws things up but now he has the sense to recognize when it was a mistake on his part and feel bad about it — he’s learned from his past. We also get to see the rest of his crew being awesome at what they do, which is not always fighting and killing things.

The other characters in this one are Bull — a New Mexico native who moved out to space to get away from his past and Anna a Methodist pastor living on one of the moons of Jupiter.

Corey does an impressive job of portraying a religious character without making her seem trite or silly. Many science fiction writers seem to ignore religion completely and those that don’t paint it as silly or obnoxious. The portrayal of a New Mexican man is also a nice touch. I heard Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who are from New Mexico) say that they chose his character because they needed somebody who would seem different to the rest of the world when they read about him. This struck me as funny at first because I didn’t think he was different at all (I also am from New Mexico). Since then I have heard other people talk about how unusual New Mexico is to the rest of the world — our culture and ethos are not like anywhere else apparently — that I have come to recognize that perhaps they made the right choice.

Abaddon’s Gate is six hundred pages of non-stop action and high stakes thriller. Corey finds time to sprinkle moments of true character growth and to populate the narrative with characters from all walks of life, the rich and the poor, Belters, Earthers and Martians. It’s all done with attention to detail that leaves the future of mankind solid and well-defined. I have no trouble believing that this is our future when I am reading these books.

Abaddon’s Gate is probably the best of the series so far. It stakes people against something vastly more powerful and shows how they deal with their feeling of inadequacy in a larger universe — the answer is, for some of them, badly.

My one complaint is in the portrayal of Mormon culture in this book. The Outer Planets Alliance has appropriated a generation ship built by Mormon colonists attempting to settle another solar system. The OPA retrofits it to look like a warship, hoping it’s vast size will intimidate others into leaving it alone. All of this is fine. The problem comes from the descriptions of the inside of the ship. The command room has filigreed statues of angels guarding the entrance — wings spread over the doorway — and pastoral paintings adorning the walls.

The problem I have is that talking to an actual Mormon or just walking inside a Mormon church for ten minutes would have corrected these errors. Mormons do not believe angels have wings, angels are people who have died and are resurrected. People don’t have wings, angels don’t have wings. The descriptions of pastoral scenes and large statues of Christ all over the ship felt wrong to me too, but I can see where the mistake might be made. If I wasn’t a Mormon I might not have noticed these things — for all I know the Methodist pastor is just as poorly conceived — but they did bother me. For a series that has struggled to get so many other things right I felt a little bit betrayed that James S. A. Corey wouldn’t do just a few minutes of research.

I mean they could have called me…

It’s a mistake I can overlook because, once again, despite the mistakes, Mormon’s are portrayed in a positive light. I know this is a bias. Corey shows people and knows that some of them are religious and some aren’t. There are different cultures, different economic backgrounds, different religions and different ways of looking at every problem.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck play well off of each other. Abraham has the character and the emotional scenes down to an art form. There is nobody better to make me feel emotion for a character (something that’s pretty hard to do — I don’t empathize easily). Ty Franck is good at knowing when the setting needs more detail and the story needs more explosions (not always literally). His pacing is what keeps these books tearing along at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

Abaddon’s Gate is a powerhouse of action (again not always the violent kind) that will leave you feeling raw and emotional by the end. I would recommend starting with the first book, Leviathan Wakes, but once you do you’ll be committed to something truly astonishing.

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