The novel “Abaddon’s Gate” by James S.A. Corey was published for the first time in 2013. It’s the third book in the Expanse series and follows “Caliban’s War“. It won the Locus Award as the best novel of the year.
The protomolecule that remained on Venus for some time left the planet to build near Uranus the Ring. When a belter boy with a makeshift spacecraft passes through the Ring, he ends up in an unknown place and is quickly killed by a violent deceleration. The images he sent alarm the whole solar system.
The crew of the former Martian fleet spaceship Rocinante had a good period but the Martian government seems suddenly intent on recovering its property and the only loophole seems to be working for a journalist going towards the Uranus system. There various spaceships, civil and military ones, representing the various human factions try to deal with the new unknown in various ways.
James S.A. Corey is the pen name of two writers: Daniel Abraham, who on his own writes mostly fantasy, and Ty Franck, who worked as an assistant to George R.R. Martin. Together, they’ve been writing the stories of the Expanse series, a space opera set in a future where humanity has colonized part of the solar system.
“Abaddon’s Gate” begins shortly eafter “Caliban’s War” and is the beginning of an expansion of the Expanse series’ fictional universe that may have significant developments. That’s because the alien protomolecule discovered at the beginning of the series built near the orbit of Uranus the Ring, a gateway that gives access to a different place.
The political situation in the solar system was already complex with the UN and Mars basically at war, although much depends on the definition of the term, while OPA’s leaders keep on working to strengthen belters’ positions. The events connected to the protomolecule changed the balance of power and after the discovery that the Ring is a gateway all factions want to study it closely.
The crew of the Rocinante and James Holden in particular are among those who’d rather stay away from the Ring but are forced to join the other spaceships traveling to the alien artifact. Detective Miller, among the protagonists of “Leviathan Wakes”, occasionally appears to Holden as a sort of ghost. This is a phenomenon started with the new activity of the protomolecule and that seems from the beginning far from a coincidence.
This beginning of “Abaddon’s Gate” is very intriguing because it really opens up new perspectives. In the Expanse series, humanity colonized a good part of the solar system, but the type of propulsion used limits its expansion. Adding an artifact that opens a gateway similar to those seen in the Stargate saga but big enough for whole spaceships to pass through could shift the human frontier in a truly remarkable way.
Unfortunately, what seemed to me the main problems of “Abaddon’s Gate”, connected to some of the protagonists of the novel’s subplots, started quickly too. James Holden is the only protagonist left from the previous novels whose point of view continues to represent the adventures of the Rocinante’s crew. The other points of view are those of new characters but two out of three in my opinion made the story too often longer in a useless way.
Specifically, Clarissa Mao is especially important in the first part of the novel, afterwards her story could be titled “50 shades of mental confusion”. Her motivations are clear at first but they become foggier and foggier in the second part of the novel, without an in-depth psychological development that would’ve made the character stronger.
Annushka “Anna” Volovodov on the other hand has a subplot I found uninteresting in the initial part because it concerns her personal story but she’s important later, also because she conveniently ends up in the right place at the right time especially on one occasion.
The plot also has some other problems such as the fact that the spaceship “Behemoth” was entrusted to a captain who is incompetent. Many events of the novel are the consequence of the fact that he can’t handle out of the ordinary situations and yet was sent into a situation crucial for the future of all humanity.
In the end among the new protagonists Carlos “Bull” c de Baca is the only one who’s always at the center of important events. Also for his personal relationship with the OPA leader Fred Johnson, his point of view remains interesting even when it concerns his life and his past. On the Behemoth, where he’s the head of security, he must also handle a difficult relationship with his captain and try to prevent him from making a mess.
The chaos that results from a combination of ignorance and incompetence leads to an extremely risky situation in the short-term for the crews and passengers of all the spaceships. The positive side is a theme that derives from it: the humans involved must decide whether to behave like rational beings or as stupid apes and their choice will determine not only their future.
The two previous novels of the Expanse series were not masterpieces but they seemed more solid from the point of view of their subplots development. Instead, “Abaddon’s Gate” gave me mixed feelings because it contains really intriguing developments but it seemed to me really overlong. Paradoxically, after a number of chapters that seemed useless, the ending seemed to me hurried and I hope that some narrative threads will be resumed in some sequels. Despite its flaws, if you want to continue the Expanse series you can’t skip it.