Babylon’s Ashes

Couple years back I took a walk down to our local City of Books in search of something trashy. If I remember correctly, I had just failed to read Infinite Jest for what may have been the second or third time and was on the prowl for the kind of lurid cover which features a spaceship, or a space babe, or a space fascist murdering some poor, alien conscript.

Naw, he’s the good guy. Promise.

And boy oh boy. Did I ever find one of those.


The book was meaty. It was a good two inches thick and roughly the dimensions of one of those Judge Dredd compendiums that include forty years worth of stories.

And it was endorsed by George R.R. Martin himself. They may as well have spring-loaded the thing to launch itself off the shelf at me.

I gobbled it up. And, in so doing, I found a few leafy greens hidden under all the popcorn; The Expanse series (of which Leviathan Wakes is the inaugural entry) actually has a pretty slick technological aesthetic, which is the kind of thing you grow to appreciate when you read science fiction for fifteen years running. The laws of gravitation actually apply, for example, and people shoot each other with tungsten slugs and torpedoes rather than “blasters”. Lasers are used for tight-beam communication rather vaporizing aliens. That first book includes what is actually a pretty convincing design for a spaceship cloaking device.

I’ve followed the series since. Every year, for the last six years, the duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank (who are represented collectively under the unwieldy pen-name “James SA Corey”) have been laboring away to put out a new one.

Every year.



Way back in the yonder years of the last generation of game consoles, the first Assassin’s Creed took my mind, scrunched it into a little ball, and blew it out the back of my head with enough force to wake the neighbors. At that point I’d probably gone from playing a lot of Star Wars: Battlefront and the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R., so the idea of running across the rooftops of Jeruselam had sure as shit never occurred to me.

See what I mean?

But then Ubisoft fucked it all up. They took this gem, this thoroughly original, beautiful idea, and they squeezed it like a Florida orange until all that was left was rind and fruit gristle. They’ve been shitting one out every year for ten years now, and it shows.

The concept’s worn out. They’re done. They’ve run out of shit to say.

Which brings me back around to The Expanse, and to the most recent release, Bablyon’s Ashes. Much the same kind of thing seems to be happening here. The books have gotten progressively less engaging. I’m still reading them – will continue to read them until “James SA Corey” hangs up their hats, but I’ve fallen out of love.

There are still things I like. The character of Chrisjen Avasarela is always wonderful. She’s a foul-mouthed, seventy year old, sari-wearing version of Nicolo Machiavelli who wanders around threatening admirals with castration and torture. She’s delightful.

The primary caste of characters are wearing just slightly thin. I like them all, and still like them all, and I like how the author(s) aren’t afraid to let them grow old. At this point they feel like the Enterprise’s bridge crew as of The Motion Picture. They’ve grown up. They’ve mellowed. Their relationships have matured, believably.

But it’s starting to feel like filler. That’s too bad, because based on plot points already written, there’s a lot more to come: 1300 alien planets, ripe for colonization. The ruins of a vast, alien empire to explore. The god-like interdimensional space demons who killed those other aliens, all those millenia ago.

So I’ll keep reading.

I just hope they cut to the chase, and tell the story they need to tell before they (and I) just stop giving a shit altogether.

Note: series


No, I don’t  watch the TV show. It’s a product of SyFy, and it shows. They fucked up a lot in the first couple of episodes, and I don’t have the patience to give SyFy  any more of my time than that.

What with their Stirling track record and all.


And yes, I am aware that “James SA Corey” probably share my opinions, but are chained to a publishing deal from which there is no escape. Daniel Abraham, at least, is not without integrity. I recommend his other output.


3 thoughts on “Babylon’s Ashes

  1. I agree with you. A quarter of the way through this snooze-fest I was cursing the authors for phoning it in. What happened to the proto molecule or the threat of the superior alien race that you alluded to? Instead we get dull as dishwater Michio Pa and Prax. The final insult was the epilogue where they, inexplicably, saw fit to resurrect their all time boring character, Ana.


    1. I suspect they signed on for a 10 book deal with no clear idea of how hard that was gonna be. I figure they probably have the rest of the big story points plotted out already, now they’re filling time until they can write that in

      Liked by 1 person

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