CIBOLA BURN by James S. A. Corey

This is the fourth in The Expanse sci fi series.  This novel describes the flood of humanity now pouring out into the galaxy and the race for the newly accessible resources on the various planets and asteroids, using the ring gates that the aliens have left behind something like a kabillion years ago.

I absolutely love love love this series.  Each is a stand alone book, loosely hooked to characters and situations from the previous volumes,with the four crew members of the Rocinante being the centerpiece of the series,  so if you have read any or all of the previous, you recognize some principles from the other books, and if you have not read them, there is enough back story to keep you in the loop without being b.o.r.i.n.g.

This series is about the Belters, people from the outer planets, most of whom have never been to Earth or Mars,  and about Earth and the UN which has started the process of methodically cataloging and investigating the new planets on the other side of the mysterious ring,  and trying to regulate who can settle and mine which planet, and about the OPA, the Outer Planet Association, which represents the Belters’ interests against the Earth UN.

Mars gets a nod here, and it is becoming clear that Mars will eventually be a lost civilization because the terraforming is slow going, and frankly, now with the rings opening up the universe to planets with Earth-like atmosphere, who wants to live their entire life underground while waiting for breathable air and the radiation to go away?  Mars will become a ghost planet, yesterday’s news, old hat, or should I say old space helmet?

In this volume, refugees from the Ganymede disaster end up on a ship that finally locates a remote uninhabited planet with atmosphere, which they name Ilus.  After landing, and looking around, they discover it has a great quantity of lithium, a highly salable alkali metal, and begin mining it.  Turns out the planet also has some weird wildlife, some of which is not exactly life, if you catch my drift.

A research ship sent by the UN shows up to take possession because they have a charter from the UN, but some Ilus activists blow up the landing site, and unfortunately, catching a shuttle as it was about to land, killing some of the scientists on board.  Thus starts a war between the two, led by a psychopathic head of security on the research vessel and a hotheaded activist on the planet.  James Holden, the captain of the Rocinante, a Mars  war ship, awarded to him for his services, and his crew, are sent by the UN head, the indomitable Chrisjen Avasarala, to act as mediator.  Accompanied by the ghost of the detective killed in an earlier volume, Holden finds a mess, and the ghost Miller is a construct of some vast alien being who is The Investigator looking for the thing that killed off the protomolecular and to disarm it.

A little confusing, but definitely different in scope.

A nuclear explosion in the ocean on the other side of the world from the colony sets off a vast tsumani which totally destroys the planet.  Fortunately there were ancient ruins of the alien to shelter in, but the days and weeks of the subsequent rains bring down an organism which finds the human eye just a dandy habitat, and everyone is slowing going blind, even while both sides are still trying to kill each other.  Such a fine testament to the basic nature of humanity.

Lots of exciting stuff goes on, and although some reviewers were not happy with the book, I — having much lower standards — thought it was great.

The title…. all the titles in this series seem to refer to some — often obscure — sci fi title or theme.  Cibola is a mythical area somewhere in the American southwest, thought to contain 7 cities flowing with gold and treasures.  The Spaniard Coronado tried to find it and all he could locate were some very poor settlements.   In this book, I think the reference is to the idea that the planet Ilus has a treasure — an abundance of lithium, which now all the big three (Earth, Mars and the OPA) want and will do what they can to obtain it.  Since the myth talks about seven cities, maybe it suggests there are six more planets, or maybe it refers to the quest for the treasure.  In addition, the noted sci fi author Connie Willis wrote a book about a journalist who meets a woman who claims to be the great granddaughter of Coronado, but that would make her 300 years old, and also claims she knows where Cibola is, so the journalist and the woman set off on a quest to find it.

 

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