The Expanse Read-along: Cibola Burn – Week 2

Cibola Burn - The Expanse read-along (background fro cover art, explosions in space)

On Ilus / New Terra, the human colonists are locked into a vicious cycle of violence and revenge. With no back-up, there’s little Jim Holden can do to calm things down – and every sign that both sides are more interested in first strikes than striking deals. Worse, as the scientists discover more about the planet, it’s looking less and less like a safe place to be…

For those new to the Read-along – we are working our way through The Expanse from beginning to end, reading about a quarter of each book per week and blogging weekly in response to a host’s prompts. Expect enthusiasm and/or ranting – it’s fun, and if you fancy joining in, the schedule is at the bottom of this post – grab a copy and read along (you don’t have to keep to the time table). Our host this week is Sarah of The Illustrated Page.

Be warned – if you keep reading, There Will Be Spoilers.


1. How do you feel about Naomi being taken captive?

It seemed like far too sensible a plan for it to be allowed to come off without a hitch, and sure enough… There may have been much yelling. I handle threats to Naomi almost as well as Amos does.


2. What are your thoughts on our new POV characters: Basia, Elvi, and Havelock?

It took me a long while to warm up to our POVs in Abaddon’s Gate, and the new ensemble isn’t proving any easier to care about. While I remain fond of geeky Elvi (I’d like to wrap her in tissue paper and feed her tea), I am getting less and less keen on Havelock (grow a spine man! And develop some opinions of your own instead of being such a corporate drone!) – although there’s a faint hint this week that he may have some embryonic conscience / empathy underneath all the layers of ‘just following orders sir’. Perhaps he’s more like Elvi (keeping her head down, getting on with the job) than I like to think (…and perhaps I should be more critical of her than protective – but she’s pushing similar buttons for me as Micah in Tremontaine).

But if I’m comparing characters I’m not hugely fond of, Cibola Burn is at a disadvantage even in comparison to Abaddon’s Gate. Elvi is not as vibrant Anna, just as Havelock has none of Bull’s hard-nosed, more-or-less ethical pragmatism. They’re paler, thinner characters – even their flaws are less interesting. Which more or less sums up how I feel about Basia – I didn’t like Melba, but at least she was interesting. Basia just irritates me as he swings from regret for his stupid choices to random temper tantrums. That said, Alex’s anti-pep talk was probably my Scene of the Week: pucker up, big boy, and get on with dealing with what you’ve done. Thank you, Alex.


3. So, do you think we’re going to encounter aliens? The thing that destroyed civilizations? Is there something larger going on than the conflict between the colonists and the corporation?

It feels like the human escalation has gone about as far as it can go without a full-on shooting war, and we’re only halfway through the book. Something has to cut through the Mexican stand-off, and my money is on aliens.

We’ll definitely see the protomolecular machinery continuing to wake up and the concomitant – and entirely predictable – horror movie standard of ‘oh shit the wildlife ain’t safe after all’, but I haven’t forgotten Miller’s interest in the area that doesn’t want to be noticed (let’s go all Vandermeer and call it Area X for now). I suspect Area X is linked to the protomolecule not the Big Bad (and oh, that we’re in a place where the protomolecule isn’t the Big Bad), but I also suspect it’s like the station – locked into its own defensive programme, and likely to react very very badly to outside interference. After all, red moons exploding just can’t be anything but a bad omen, right? But is Area X behind the sudden awakening of the machinery (and is that sudden? Or does all this happen on a regular cycle? I WANT TO KNOW ALL THE THINGS, PEOPLE, PLEASE TO STOP KILLING EACH OTHER SO WE CAN FIND OUT).


4. Speaking of the conflict, what actions do you think Holden can take to resolve it?

Unfortunately, my immediate gut response is ‘kill Murtry’ but that sits badly with me – and almost certainly means killing his whole security squad on planet, too. I liked Alex’s idea of disabling the weaponised shuttle – but I wondered about disabling the supply shuttle instead, forcing RCE to deal with either the colonists (for access to the Barb‘s shuttle) or with the Roci herself if they want to resupply. However – I don’t think that works in a situation that involves Murtry – it just escalates the Mexican stand-off (as he’d almost certainly kill Amos and capture Holden, as he’s pretty sure Alex won’t actually shoot down the Israel while Naomi is aboard).

So I think the only route through this is to flip the game board upside down. Sadie’s son Jason really is infected. Take that seed of truth and get Elvi on side to sell the big lie: make it contagious. Holden wants everyone off-planet anyway – and I’m as bewildered as he is that huge machines out over the horizon are sufficiently out of sight to not be a huge concern to them – but surely the at-hand threat of a protomolecular plague would do the trick?


Other thoughts for the week…

You’d think Murtry’s antics would win the award for setting my teeth on edge, but Irritation of the Week goes to Havelock for his offhand comments about Holden.

“He protects his own.”

“His woman?”

“His crew,” Naomi said, biting the words a little.

HOORAY for Naomi putting him in his place, and then going on to seriously unsettle him. Damn straight you shouldn’t underestimate a lady just because you got the drop on her. She got herself off Eros when it was in lockdown, thank you very much. And your brig isn’t even soundproof.


Take a tour of our responses this week:


A round-up of the weekly discussions for Book 4: