Nuts and bolts sf when it’s done right? There is just nothing better.



I really liked the first book in this series (…), liked the next three, and then came this one. Wow, is it good.

*Spoilers. Can’t talk about this book without them.*

After we’ve had four books to get fully invested in the lives of armed space freighter Rocinante’s crew, Earther Captain Jim Holden, Belter XO Naomi Nagata, Martian pilot Alex Kamal and Earther mechanic (and oh, please do invest other meanings into that job title) Amos Burton. Together they have shepherded an alien protomolecule into a fractured Solar System already hanging onto peace by a thread. Earthers are doling out the goodies far too parsimoniously, Martians are preoccupied with terraforming their planet into having atmosphere, and Belters are just generally pissed off at not getting what they regard as their share of the pie.

The book opens on a textbook assault on a ship repair base and leaves us hanging–why the hell did they do that and what are they going to use that for? Don’t worry, you’ll find out in a truly horrific payoff. Meanwhile, the Rocinante, about wrecked from her last mission to one of the new planets, is in dry dock at Tycho undergoing repairs. It’s going to be months before she can fly again, so during the wait Alex decides to go back to Mars to dot some i’s he left behind, Amos returns to Earth to find out how an old friend actually died, and Naomi gets a mysterious message from an old lover, leaving Holden behind supervising repairs and feeling more than a little abandoned. The book then follows each of the crew on their individual journeys, which are, shall we say, slightly interrupted when the alien gates leading to a thousand new worlds that already have atmosphere, magnetosphere and water finally triggers the war that (my favorite character) UN bigwig Chrisjen Avasarala has long seen coming and has been trying desperately to avert.

Busting up the crew so we can discover each crew member’s backstory is just a great way to reinvest the reader in the series. Maybe there were clues to all of these narratives in previous books and maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention, but the reveals about Natalie took my breath away. While I knew Amos was a stone cold killa I had no idea where that came from. One of my favorite moments in this book is when another character says to him, “So why take them?” meaning why rescue the servants of the family from whom they are stealing a ship to get the hell off a wrecked Earth (just go with it), Amos replies

“Seems like the sort of thing Holden’d do.”

Yeah. It’s why this crew is together, it’s because they are literally better people together than they are apart, even when they are apart.

Alex’s story is the most fun, as nothing on Mars turns out like he expected (loved that scene with Talissa), and then that cumulative scrambling tumble of events that leads to Naomi’s rescue is just a rollercoaster of a delight. When Bobbie (Bobbie’s back, yay!) looks at him and grins and says

“How good’s your control on those missiles?”

I let out a whoop that Corey should have been able to hear in Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, back on Tycho, the revolution nearly does for Jim in about sixteen different ways and when the Roci is finally cleared for takeoff and en route he’s still looking over his shoulder and so he should be. Jim is the heart of the crew and the heart of this story.

“What did you do?” Fred asked.

“There was a button,” Holden said. “I pushed it.”

“Jesus Christ. That really is how you go through life, isn’t it?”

It sure is. The reunion of the crew on Luna, the conversations between Alex and Amos and then Jim and Naomi, just fabulous. These guys need each other so much, and through fire and storm they have reunited, and no matter what the universe throws at them (and oh yeah, shit is coming) they’re going to be okay. It’s also a reminder of my dictum, “Everything is personal.” Here it is, in spades. Marco is a great villain specifically because he is so recognizable as a narcissistic megalomaniac. I can’t wait for him to get his, and while my heart breaks for Naomi over Filip, Avasarala is right. For some acts there can be no forgiveness. Although, Clarissa Rao, everyone’s favorite sociopath, is back, too! Yay!

“She is responsible for a lot of dead people,” Jim said. “She blew up the Seung Un. Took out a quarter of the crew. And that one body they found? The one she was carrying around in a toolbox?…That guy was a friend of hers.”

Yep, Jim, she tried to kill you and now she’s on the crew. Deal with it.

This book is so well plotted and well timed that it reminded me of Don Winslow’s The Death and Life of Bobby Z, for me until now the gold standard in plots. Yep, they would all do exactly those things and it would put them all in exactly those places. Never once did I hold my nose and think “Oh come on.” This one stays on the shelf, because it’s destined to be a comfort read for years to come. Nuts and bolts sf when it’s done right? There is just nothing better.

“Like a wasp eating marmalade,” whispered Mrs. Havelock.”



Young Katie Steelstock, back in her home village of Hannington from her TV role in London as Britain’s sweetheart, is brutally murdered after a small-town dance. Her lover stands accused but not so fast, as other bodies begin to pile up. One of Gilbert’s grimmer efforts, as in maybe he went one death too far (or maybe I mean one death short), but exquisitely well written as per usual and the scenes in the courtroom are simply superb.

Mrs. Bellamy had brought out a pair of old-fashioned pince-nez glasses, which she perched on her nose, alternately looking through them at her notes and over them at the witness. There was something mesmeric about the bobbing up and down of her head. (“Like a wasp eating marmalade,” whispered Mrs. Havelock.”)

Nobody ever did it better than Gilbert. I’m glad he was so prolific that I’m still discovering books by him I haven’t read.

The British actor had to be hustled out of the country for his own safety.



Three centuries after Shakespeare died, across the pond New Yorkers rioted over the relative merits of Macbeth as played by a British actor and an American one. The National Guard was called out, people actually died, and the British actor had to be hustled out of the country for his own safety. America had embraced Shakespeare as one of their own, and he was read so extensively and so intensively that audiences from rural Kentucky to the California gold mines could shout out the correct line when an actor in performance stumbled over it.

Author Cliff concludes, “Once a voice carried a people across a continent and helped forge a brave new world. No other writer has been so powerful, and no one ever will be again.” This book includes a survey of 19th century American history, a history of Western theatre, is peopled with great characters and you-are-there settings, and has a quotable phrase on nearly every page.

Is there a post to their apocalypse?


From APOD:

Explanation: Will either of these galaxies survive? In what might be dubbed as a semi-final round in a galactic elimination tournament, the two spirals of NGC 7318 are colliding. The featured picture was created from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. When galaxies crash into each other, many things may happen including gravitational distortion, gas condensing to produce new episodes of star formation, and ultimately the two galaxies combining into one. Since these two galaxies are part of Stephan’s Quintet, a final round of battling galaxies will likely occur over the next few billion years with the eventual result of many scattered stars and one large galaxy. Quite possibly, the remaining galaxy will not be easily identified with any of its initial galactic components. Stephan’s Quintet was the first identified galaxy group, lies about 300 million light years away, and is visible through a moderately-sized telescope toward the constellation of the Winged Horse (Pegasus).

So what happens if there are people on planets in either one of those galaxies? What happens to them? Is there a post to their apocalypse? Are the galaxies so enormous that most of the solar systems therein just slip past each other? Will the gravity of one group of planets pull other planets out of the orbit of their stars? Will some of the planets collide? It will all happen sooooo verrrrry slooooowly, will people who need to have time to make a plan to invent star travel and vacate the premises for a safer place? Would there be a safer place they could get to without FTL travel? And how soon would they know it was happening, and what would the effect be on their populations?

There’s a book someone should write.

“You ranch long enough, you make peace with what you can’t help.”


It’s 1938, and ranch-raised 19-year old Bud Frazer’s family lost first his sister in a riding accident and then their ranch, and after a couple of years following the rodeo circuit he heads for Hollywood to find work riding horses in Westerns.

There are a lot of different things going on here, just for starters the real life Bud lived on Echol Creek Ranch growing up and the vastly different version that Hollywood commemorates in film.

You never saw a movie cowboy hauling salt up to the high pastures or building fence around a haystack or helping a heifer figure out what to do with her first calf. Those movies were full of bank robberies and stage holdups, feuds, galloping posses, murderous Indians, and claim jumpers–nothing I ever saw growing up.

There is the friendship between Bud and Lily, a budding screenwriter, who meet on the bus to Los Angeles and begin a friendship that despite differences and difficulties lasts a lifetime.

I was used to girls who tried to make you think you were smarter than them even if you weren’t, but Lily never in her life cared whether a boy knew she was smarter than he was.

It’s the story of the Depression and its effect on the lives of people struggling to get by, it’s the story of producers who will do anything to get the shot, including kill horses and the stuntmen who ride them, and it is especially the story of Bud and the guilt he feels over his sister’s death, and trying to atone for that perceived sin. She fell from her horse and Bud spends the next three years falling from horses on the rodeo circuit and in Hollywood. It wasn’t an unconscious choice of profession.

…that last week in Arizona, after the lancer charge, I lay in bed every night seeing, over and over, horses and men falling through a veil of dust and shattered glass, turning over in my head my hatred of Cab, and then in the long hours of darkness coming around slowly to knowing I’d been looking for something like this to happen, a big fall — maybe even hoping for it. And knowing if I’d been hurt or killed I would deserve what I’d been given. A settling of accounts for getting my sister killed.

What I find most compelling about this book is the voice, very similar to the voice Gloss used in The Hearts of Horses. It’s an almost canter-like cadence, a sort of run-on, hypnotic rhythm. I even imagine hearing Bud speaking in a monotone.

The pinto whirled and reared up, pawing the steep slope, and I pulled my hand back and the horse came too high–I saw it was too high. I slipped off his tail end, my right hand still clenching the reins which might be why the horse came above me, looming dark. I landed on my feet and tried to throw myself to the side, but I lost my footing on the slope. The ground or the horse rose up and hit me–a white flash behind my eyes–and then we were both sliding downhill, a long slid it seemed at the time, but maybe not more than thirty or forty feet before I hit a bit of flat shelf and the horse rolled over me–incredible red-hot wires of pain flashing through my hips and my legs. The pinto kept going all the way down the hill and came to his feet at the bottom without a goddamn mark on him.

See? The drama of these events is all in the reader’s mind. Bud is just telling his story here. Despair is Bud’s constant companion and it feels that much more agonizing when told in this emotionless, matter-of-fact way. As his father says

“Things just happen and it’s nobody’s fault.” After another pause, he said, “You ranch long enough, you make peace with what you can’t help.”

Highly recommended.