The Expanse Read-along: Cibola Burn – Week 4

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

As Cibola goes full Burn, the gloves come off, with Murtry determined to claim the planet for RCE through weight of numbers – of corpses. While Havelock has finally learnt to question dubious orders, there are sadly plenty others who are happy to pick up arms against civilians in distress. And if Holden and Miller can’t switch off the planet’s defences, nobody is likely to survive until a rescue ship arrives…

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 Allie of Tethyan Books.

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


1. First, the traditional question, what do you think of the point-of-view characters, now that you’ve seen how each of their stories end up? Also, how does this book compare with the first three of the series for you?

Honestly, I’ll be happy to see the back of all of them – and I hope none of them reappear as POV or even peripheral characters in future instalments. I think my main criticism of the series overall is its handling of character definition and development – just as Holden and Miller felt flimsy in Leviathan, so all the POV characters in Abaddon and Cibola feel a bit thin. I don’t feel that the character arcs were particularly well-drawn here either; they felt like plot service rather than being interesting or nuanced in their own right – rather blunt instruments.

If I was pushed to call out what I think the core theme of the series is, I have to now settle on ‘human beings are shit’, which makes me sad. Thankfully the Roci crew (and Bobbie and Anna) exist to ensure it’s not full-on grimdark, but gosh it’s starting to grind me down a bit.

And unexpectedly, I’ll miss Miller.


2. Do you feel that things came out fairly for everyone, colonist and RCE? Are you happy with how things ended for Marwick, Havelock, Murtry, Basia, and others?

I think Basia got let off lightly, to be honest, and that Havelock still has reparations to make – for me he bears equal blame with Murtry for most of the bollocks that goes down in the final act because he refused to confront what he was being asked to do and slipped so quickly back into his racist attitudes. But I like that Holden is back to Doing Things Right and took Murtry back for trial rather than summarily killing him. It was one of the great shocks of Caliban that Holden fell into those habits, and it’s sort of reassuring that he’s back to his ethical self.

…although I don’t think he would have been if Amos had died. And I don’t put it past Amos to accidentally let Murtry trip out an airlock.

I remain a bit shocked that they’re staying on-planet. There’s some trust in Miller there – ‘honestly, it’ll all be fine now. FINE. Forget you all nearly died and half this planet has systems you don’t understand lying dormant. What can go wrong?’


3. We finally get to see Avasarala and Bobbie again, in the epilogue! What do you think about her plan for James Holden, now that we know what she was going for in choosing him? Do you think she’s right to believe that what happened on Ilus will destroy Mars?

YAY LADIES YAY! Avasarala should know by now that working with Jim Holden is a bit of a gamble, but gambling that he’d go full public with the car crash on Ilus would have seemed like a very safe bet given his history …and that makes her plan every bit as heartless as I expect from the grumpy old lady. She’s all about the big picture – and while I was initially curious as to why she’d give a damn about Mars, when she spelled it out it she is – as usual – several steps ahead of everybody else.

Nemesis Games is going to be a bloodbath, isn’t it?


4. Time for predictions! Do you have any thoughts on what might happen in the next book? Is there anything you’d especially like to see?

I think it’s going to continue assaulting my desire to believe in humanity, because Avasarala completely sold me on her fears. And having seen what Murtry was willing to do with the least opportunity, I think it’s going to be very, very ugly.

I’m also starting to think I’ll never get to see my aliens. We’ve lost Miller and by extension the protomolecule – I mean, the things it left behind will be everywhere and always a threat, but I’m losing hope we’ll ever get to meet the Engineers or their enemies. I hope I’m wrong. I’d still really like a story that is back to OH HELL NO WHAT’S HAPPENING rather than plumbing the self-centred depths of human ambition and greed.

I might need to reread some Becky Chambers to get a dose of hopeful SF once we finish!


Other thoughts for the week…

I’ve got to say Cibola Burn is my least favourite book of the series so far. It’s not a bad book – it’s still a tearing pot boiler that’s easy to read and hard to put down – but neither the POV characters nor the plot endeared themselves to me. That’s not going to put me off tearing ahead: the broader context (and the promise of a return in Nemesis Games for Avasarala and/or Bobbie Draper) still has me interested.

We’re pushing our weekly posts to Sundays for Nemesis Games – although given how erratic my Cibola Burn posts have been, I realise I’ve not exactly kept to a schedule, so you’re forgiven if you don’t notice that we change it!


Take a tour of our responses this week:


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