4 of 5 stars
I'm a great fan of the TV series based on these books, The Expanse on SyFy. I watched the first two seasons without having read any of the books. Now that I'm getting into the books, I must admit it's been a bit of an education. I can see where this book's storyline was changed (although not all that much, fortunately) and compressed, and I applaud the producers' decision to bring in a character who actually isn't in the print series until the second book. The series has definitely captured the gritty, messy future described in this book, where humanity has spread within the solar system but still hasn't left behind its endless fighting.
This series takes place about two hundred years in the future, when Mars, various moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the asteroid belt have been settled, and Mars is in the process of being terraformed. The point is made that these new generations born and raised in space have already started to tweak human evolution, as Belters are taller and thinner than Earthborn humans, due to living in lower gravity. Mars is the golden child, with plenty of pretty military toys, technologically advanced; Earth is the aging mother, overcrowded (with a population of 30 billion--I cannot imagine this) but still supplying the colonies with food and air; and the Belt and its denizens are the orphans fighting to survive in the solar system's dregs. This tinderbox, and its very uneasy and delicate status quo, is upended by the discovery of an alien nanotech supervirus, launched at our solar system billions of years ago and kept from settling upon the infant Earth by a fortuitous accident (Saturn basically getting in the way). Unfortunately, an Earth corporation discovers this ancient invasion, and since Earth corporations are still assholes in search of endless profit even hundreds of years from now, it takes this virus (dubbed the "protomolecule") and promptly starts experimenting with it...on individuals and eventually a million and a half people inside a settled asteroid.
Our two viewpoint characters in this system-spanning disaster are James Holden and Joe Miller, the XO of the ice freighter Canterbury and a cop working on the asteroid Ceres respectively. Holden is an idealistic do-gooder in way over his head, and Miller the weary, hard-bitten soul who is just trying to solve a mystery and gets dragged into a mess. Of the two, Miller was the better character to me; I wanted to slap Holden several times. This is a very long book (561 pages) but unlike the last doorstop I suffered through, the pacing was good and the story flowed nicely, and infodumps were kept to a minimum. (No pages upon pages explaining how the Epstein drive worked, for instance. It's there, it uses fuel pellets at extremely high efficiency, it enables travel at high enough gees that drugs are required to keep people from blowing their organs and blood vessels, and we go with it.)
I'm glad I watched the series first, as it made for an interesting comparison and I don't mind spoilers. This is a gritty, dirty, lived-in world, and the politics are as interesting as the protomolecule. It doesn't envision a particularly nice future humanity, with schisms and prejudices and tribalisms that endure beyond this planet and into the stars, but these many shades of gray make for fascinating reading.