Corey, James S.A. Caliban’s War.

NY: Orbit Books, 2012.

This second volume in the space-opera series “The Expanse” is at least as good as the first. The manufactured alien life form known as the “protomolecule” has been sidetracked to Venus instead of striking Earth, thanks to the fatalistic heroism of Detective Miller of Ceres, and our neighboring planet is undergoing major changes that no one understands. Captain Jim Holden and his tiny crew, hardcore survivors all, are working their way around the system in their stolen/salvaged Martian Navy assault ship, acting as enforcers for the rebellious Outer Planets Alliance, which is now on the way to becoming an actual goverment for the Asteroid Belt.

And we meet two new players, Martian Marine Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper, a young, very large, very intimidating woman, and Chrisjen Avasarala, UN Assistant Undersecretary for Administration, an old, very small woman but even more intimidating than Bobbie. Finally, there’s Praxidike Meng, botanist and doting father on Ganymede, the breadbasket of the outer system, whose young daughter is kidnapped just before all hell breaks loose on their tiny world.

The inexpressibly dangerous bioweapon that was aimed at Earth a few billion years ago was thought to have been at least somewhat contained, giving Earth, Mars, and the Belt a bit of breathing room. It turns out the military and civil powers of both inner planets have playing their own games, though, and weapons are being cocked on all sides. And it’s not at all certain the species can survive what’s coming.

As in the first volume, the plot progresses through alternating chapters and characters’ POVs and the tension builds steadily almost from the first page. The players are developed in great detail and all are completely convincing — especially Holden, who finds himself becoming someone he doesn’t much like under stress. And Avasarala is a hoot and a half. Moreover, the last few pages will take you by the throat and make you anxious to grab the third book in the series. This is great stuff.

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