Review: “Cibola Burn” by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn (The Expanse: Book 4) by James S.A. Corey. Orbit Books. 611 pages.

I’m always a little skeptical of an author’s ability to sustain a series through several books, and there have been several times I’ve fallen in love with the first book in a series, only to be disappointed later. This is not one of those times.

Cibola Burn is the fourth book in The Expanse, the series now on SyFy that combines hard science fiction, good storytelling, great characterization and lots of action to keep your interest all the while long. The basic story deals with humanity in the 22nd Century, when Earth and Mars have been settled and the Belt (everything outside those two planets) is looked at as the Wild West and a source of vast resources. Eventually, the three governments (Earth, The Mars Republic, and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA for short)) get closer and closer to war, and it ends up with someone discovering a secret weapon: a protomolecule, an alien lifeform from another solar system. With war looming, the protomolecule changes hands and terrible forms to kill again and again.

James Holden and his crew on the former Mars warship Rocinante sees the danger of the protomolecule and throughout the first three books tries to rid the solar system of it, one way or another. As they are involved in one crisis or another, saving humanity from war or worse without taking sides, they become famous. As Cibola Burn begins, they are asked to intervene in a situation on a new planet outside the system where settlers from the Belt have come into conflict with a United Nations ship filled with scientists.

The action is there, as is the humor. The characters are solid (my favorite character is Amos, the quiet strong-armed mechanic they keep around who usually ends up beating up or killing someone to rescue someone else), and the science is there too. I’m especially grateful that the authors (yes, despite the byline, there are two authors) stick to solid hard science throughout rather than turning this into a space opera.

The only hesitation I would have is that it is over 600 pages long, and it is volume 4. It’s a commitment to get into this series, but if you like spacefaring hard science fiction with humor and great characters, this may be it.

I give it five stars out of five.