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

 

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I really liked the first book in this series (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…), 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.

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