This is Book 8 The Expanse series. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, except the shit at the end. I swear the authors have decided to take a page from George R. R. Martin's playbook. That doesn't reduce the enjoyments of the book, but does add a bit of bittersweetness to the end.
This book continues where the previous book left off, with Holden a prisoner, and the Resistance against Duarte gaining steam.
The book has a couple "wait, no, that didn't just happen, did it, wait, what's going on" moments, which are explained in the Expanse novellas. I liked how a couple of the this-doesn't-make-any-sense plots of a couple of them fold in upon this storyline, and, yes, make sense (even with an "of course").
I really need to be better about writing down the plots as I read the book, so that these reviews can be complete and utter spoilers for everyone else and good reminders for me. Today is not that day, so I'm stunningly vague here.
If you're reading the series, keep reading. If you're not reading it yet, but enjoy the SyFy series, worth reading. If you're a science fiction fan, totally strongly recommended.
She taught us to use everything shameful in our lives as a weapon to humiliate people who would diminish us. That’s the secret, you know.” “What’s the secret?” Kajri smiled. “The people who have power over you are weak too. They shit and bleed and worry that their children don’t love them anymore. They’re embarrassed by the stupid things they did when they were young that everyone else has forgotten. And so they’re vulnerable. We all define ourselves by the people around us, because that’s the kind of monkey we are. We can’t transcend it. So when they watch you, they hand you the power to change what they are too.”
I’m too old to be good at taking orders.” “I agree,” Fayez said. “But here we are.”
When the king says, Come work for me, there aren’t many paths to No.
“She was a fighter, but she wasn’t a warrior. She was always leading the struggle, but she did it by finding other ways to get the work done. Alliances, political pressure, trade, logistics. Her strategy was always that violence came last.”
“No one’s arguing against leverage. No one’s saying that we shouldn’t be looking for political angles too. But pacifism only works when your enemy has a conscience.
The Occam’s razor argument to nearly all conspiracy theories was that people were really shitty at keeping secrets, and large groups of people were exponentially worse.
“She’s lost a lot,” Alex said. “She’s afraid of losing it all.” Bobbie grabbed Alex’s upper arm and gave it an affectionate squeeze. “And that’s the point I keep trying to make with her, my friend. In a fight like this, unless you’re willing to lose everything to win, you lose it all by losing.”
Teresa nodded, but slowly. Her head was thick, the way it got when she was thinking about something without quite being conscious of what it was. Usually something interesting came up shortly afterward. She liked the feeling.
“Everything’s important. All of it,” her father said. “And so every part of it needs to be able to fail without destroying the whole project.
It took a few seconds to really understand what he was saying. The huge moments in life seemed like they should have more ceremony and effects. The important words—the life-changing ones—should echo a little. But they didn’t. They sounded just like everything else.
People always claimed that waiting for the fight was the hardest part of fighting. Bobbie had said it herself, as a younger woman. When the fight is coming, when it’s inevitable, let’s just fucking get to it. Once the battle starts, things happen too fast to worry about. The fear is all instinctual, not intellectual. Somehow, that used to feel better. Age had changed that. Bobbie had learned to see the quiet moment before the fight as a blessing. A gift. Very few people who were headed toward death even knew it was happening, much less had time to sit and reflect on their life. What they’d done that mattered. Whether it would be a good death.
“This far, and no farther,” she whispered. Her litany to the tyrants and bullies and despots.
The other warrior’s litany. There are people I love. There are people who have loved me. I fought for what I believed, protected those I could, and stood my ground against the encroaching darkness. Good enough.
She slept to schedule too, dimming the lights for eight hours, no more and no less, never sleeping in. Never taking naps. Routine was what kept the darkness at bay, when anything did.
A few decades flying the same ship together had built little versions of her family in her head. Made some part of them a part of her, even when she didn’t particularly want them to be. Even when the little mirrors of them only told her that their conversation wasn’t finished.
That’s the thing about autocracy. It looks pretty decent while it still looks pretty decent. Survivable, anyway. And it keeps looking like that right up until it doesn’t. That’s how you find out it’s too late.
Growing older was a falling away of everything that didn’t matter. And a deepening appreciation of all the parts that were important enough to stay.
That’s the point of a dancing bear. It’s the least dangerous thing at the court, because everyone’s aware of it. The ones you trust are always the most dangerous. A lot more kings and princesses got poisoned by their friends than eaten by bears.”
Nothing died without becoming the foundation for what came after.
Maybe it was something that happened with every generation, this sense of displacement. It might be an artifact of the way human minds seemed to peg “normal” to whatever they’d experienced first and then bristled at everything afterward that failed to match it closely enough.
Age looked good on her. It looked right.
“I’m hearing you ask whether authoritarianism is necessarily bad,” she said. “Did I get that right? Because yeah, it is.”
“There’s no way,” Bobbie said. “There’s just pushing back with everything we’ve got and hoping we can outlast the bastards.”
Duarte and his people were smart. They kept things from getting bad too quickly. They made the right speeches about respect and autonomy. They let people believe that government by a king would never go wrong. And by the time it did, and things got bad enough to inspire a younger resistance, she and Alex and the old-school OPA would be off the board. Then who would be left to fight? Why would they think there was any hope in it?
“Humans arose inside nature. We’re natural. Everything we do is natural. The whole idea that we are different in category is either sentimental or religious. Irrelevant from a scientific perspective.”
“The only limits on us are what we can do. It’s perfectly natural to seek personal benefit. It’s perfectly natural to give advantages to your own offspring and withhold them from others. It’s perfectly natural to kill your enemies. That’s not even outlier behavior. That’s all in the middle of the bell curve all the time.”
Getting what you want fucks you up. Naomi pushed the thought aside as she had a dozen times before.
“I don’t know. I don’t like things that can only happen once. You can’t make sense of something when there’s no pattern. One data point is the same as none.”
“Worrying feels like you’re at least doing something,” Caspar said. “I get it. When I started flying for the union, I worried about my mom so that I wouldn’t feel guilty for leaving her behind.”
Anger roughened her voice. He wanted to pull back from her. Retreat, but he’d known her long enough to see it was the wrong way with her. Whatever she was thinking through, she needed someone to slam it up against. Placating her wasn’t going to make either of them happy. Or safe.
“Easy to make rules,” Emma said. “Easy to make systems with a perfect logic and rigor. All you need to do is leave out the mercy, yeah? Then when you put people into it and they get chewed to nothing, it’s the person’s fault. Not the rules. Everything we do that’s worth shit, we’ve done with people. Flawed, stupid, lying, rules-breaking people. Laconians making the same mistake as ever. Our rules are good, and they’d work perfectly if it were only a different species.” “You sound like someone I know,” Naomi said. “I’ll die for that,” Emma said. “I’ll die so that people can be fuckups and still find mercy. Not why you’re here?”
“Anyway, I spent too much time already with people telling me they’d shoot me if I didn’t do what they said. That tank’s empty for this lifetime.”
The fluid made it hard to laugh. Her husband might not have been a good match for anyone but her. But for her, he was perfect.
A voice in her memory said the words as clearly and distinctly as if they had been spoken: Distributed responsibility is the problem. One person gives the order, another carries it out. One can say they didn’t pull the trigger, the other that they were just doing what they were told, and everyone lets themselves off the hook. She let her breath out slowly from between her teeth.
Moments like these were opportunities. They could bring new alliances, new empathy, a new and broader sense of being together in a single human tribe. Or they could be the poison that ran through human minds for decades to come and welcomed ancient wars onto new and bloody battlefields.
“How can I help?” Elvi asked. It sounded better than What the fuck do you want me to do about this?
“I think I must have lived my life wrong somehow,” she said. “I know the feeling,” he said. “But then I see you, and I think something must have gone right. Even if everything else treats me like my previous incarnation killed a priest.”
“This may not help,” he said, “but part of what you’re feeling right now is normal. There’s a moment that everyone eventually experiences when they see that their parents are just people. That these mythic figures in their lives are also struggling and guessing. Doing their best without knowing for certain what their best is.”
“Are you trying to make me feel better?” “No,” Chava said. “We’re too old for that. I’m trying to make you feel like you aren’t alone in it. That’s all I’ve got.”
Governments exist on confidence. Not on liberty. Not on righteousness. Not on force. They exist because people believe that they do. Because they don’t ask questions. And
Nature was beautiful, wherever she found it. And it was cruel. She didn’t know why she kept expecting humanity to be different.
Red in tooth and claw, and at every level. In the Bible, even angels murdered humanity’s babies when God asked them to.
For all Naomi’s life, the problem had been knowing which information to believe. A few billion people with access to networks and as many newsfeeds as there were transmitters made it easy to find someone loudly declaiming every possible opinion in every corner and niche of the solar system.
She liked Chava, and it was a pleasant space to be in, but it wasn’t home. What she missed was the idea of a home of her own. People she knew for more than a few weeks at a time. It was worse, because she’d had a place once. And a family with it. She would never stop missing that.
There were so many last times that passed unrecognized. Knowing in the moment what was ending and wouldn’t come again was precious.
Wars never ended because one side was defeated. They ended because the enemies were reconciled. Anything else was just a postponement of the next round of violence.
All the families he’d had, and all the ways he’d lost them. It felt like too much to bear, but he bore it. And after a few minutes the worst would pass, and he could get back to work.
She felt herself falling into a rhythm she hadn’t known existed, and recognized perfectly. Normalcy. This was how life just was, and everything else she’d done, however comfortable she’d been with it, had been the aberration.
And about the goal at the end. That was the trick of grand strategy. Knowing where the journey was ending even when you were making up all the individual steps to get there.
want this war over with, and a real peace established. The kind where people can be angry with each other and hate each other and no one has to die over it.
It was, according to them, like knowing things without having to learn them first.
There would be a point when it was all too much.
When she’d break. It hadn’t come yet, though, so she didn’t have to deal with it. She was very aware that she was working on what Fayez called fuck-it-if-it’s-not-happening-right-now protocol.
That was the thing about hubris. It only became clear in retrospect.
If he could feel the effort of motion, maybe it would do something for his anxiety.
He felt his anxiety starting to shift, but he wasn’t sure yet what it was becoming. Maybe excitement. Maybe fear.
Every place had the dream of what it could become. Dreams were fragile things to build with. Titanium and ceramic lasted longer.
“No,” Holden said, “leave it be. We still have friends there. Elvi, for one.” “Oh,” Alex said. “Should we go get her?” “No,” Holden said. “She’s where she needs to be.”
Give the people enough information, and they’d be able to make the right decisions on their own.
She stroked her fingertips across his forehead and down his cheek. He turned his head, pressing into her hand like a cat that wanted petting.
He used to say that when you went too far too fast, your soul took some time catching up to you.”