Nemesis Games saw Earth attacked and crippled. Billions are dead after Marco Inaros and the Belter Free Navy landed an unimaginably cruel and perhaps fatal blow on the Inner Planets. Medina Station, the key to the colonies opened in Abaddon’s Gate, is also locked down by the Free Navy. Babylon’s Ashes is about the aftermath. Earth led by the incomparable Avasarala, The Mars Congressional Republic and those factions of the Outer Planets Alliance unwilling to accept Inaros’s guidance must now pick up the pieces and strike back before human civilization passes a point of no return towards a new dark age.
Well written as always, Nemesis Games is a pretty depressing read for the most part, but how else could it be with humanity shattered and billions dying of starvation and exposure? The glimpses of light from the efforts of James Holden and the others on the “good” side are heartbreaking and poignant and at the same time encouraging and heartening, as the authors probably intended. The inner doubts and struggles of the characters, in particular Michio Pa, show the reader how politics writ large is still made up of the decisions of individual actors. And as usual any scene with Avasarala involves her stealing the show. How awesome is this character?
The new worlds discovered in Abaddon’s Gate and opened in Cibola Burn are the new frontier of human expansion. By consequence, there is no longer a need to settle minor bodies like asteroids and live “on the float” like the Belters. This group was already emarginated and seen as exploited by the powerful planetary hegemonies of Earth and Mars. Now their entire raison d’etre as a culture is being threatened. Even Mars is feeling the pressure, as people leave its underground warrens for the opportunity to live in the open air on a new colony planet.
With this as a backdrop, our heroes of the Rocinante is on hiatus on Tycho Station while the ship is being repaired. On cue Amos, Alex and Naomi are called away to handle matters originating in their past. For most of the story, the crew is split up, which makes for an interesting exploration of the individual characters.
And then the big boom happens. An extremist Belter faction attacks Earth. Our heroes must survive alone, and find some way to reunite.
The wider political situation continues to develop, ensuring that the protagonists are not just living out adventures in a static world. The backstories of the characters are interesting in themselves. The exploration of Naomi’s past, delving into some rather dark territory, is especially gripping. Another very enjoyable installment.
Non-fiction about the history and present of Afghanistan. Written before 9/11, it gives a clear picture of why events turned out the way it did. At times heavy and gloomy reading, it is nevertheless very interesting. The author’s conclusions may be a biased, but it is hard to argue the fact that foreign influence (or lack of it) in Afghanistan served the purposes of the emerging Taliban regime. One could almost see this as a sort of manual in how not to perform foreign policy.
Oh how the mighty have fallen! Some of my favorite novels are The Hunt for Red October and Executive Orders., products of a true master. By the time he wrote this novel, though, Mr. Clancy seemed to have lost it his touch. Red Rabbit was at best passable and The Teeth of the Tiger continued the decline. Full of platitudes (“if possible, the service in Vienna was even better than in Munich”) and repetitions, it makes one believe the rumors that he does not write anymore, and the novels are group efforts by his staff. Supposedly, Clancy supervises and approves. It’s very sad to see what was once a great author who has declined so much.
Having said that, The Teeth of the Tiger is still a somewhat entertaining novel, arguably worth a read for the Clancy fan. The story is about a US agency so deep undercover that it is not even part of the government (insert worrying comments about vigilantism here) and terrorism against America. Unfortunately it is predictable to the point of annoyance on the part of this reader., I really wanted to like this book, and was having a pretty good time. Unfortunately the ending, while in fact coming to some sort of conclusion, does leave a lot of stuff just hanging there.
A step away from Jack Ryan, although he still lurks in the background. Unfortunately, this novel marks a decided slump in the quality of Clancy’s writing. There is nothing wrong with the story, although I found the motivation of the bad guys a bit too James Bond’ish. I just did not feel a compelling need to finish the book. It was a bit dull, especially compared to earlier Clancy are. You won’t miss anything by skipping directly to The Bear and the Dragon.
Some say that he does not write anymore, but only oversees a staff. I don’t know about that. My opinion is that this novel was written mainly as a selling vehicle for the computer games series released around the same time by Clancy’s games company Red Storm. The Rainbow Six games are very much about the counter-terrorism unit depicted in the novel.
In many cases, when an author tries to tackle an utopian future, in which large parts of humanity are without want (if there is such a thing) and live a very good life, the effort falls flat. During the first fifty pages or so, I was indeed worried. Things soon looked up, however. First of all, there is trouble in paradise, both internal and external. Secondly, there are cool people, such as our hero, superagent Ian Cormac. Thirdly, there are cool gadgets, like self-aware shuriken. Interestingly, most of human society is controlled by AIs, probably since they seem to be doing a better job than humans ever did.
In an unforgettable exchange, it is explained that AIs have the power of self-determination since it is programmed into them. On the other hand “biologicals” do not, because they have biological imperatives to breed and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, even though the ending left me a bit puzzled. What the heck was going on there?
This novel is set in the same universe and time period as “Freehold“. It is the story of Kenneth Chinran, the man who led the attacks on Earth during the Freehold War. It is a long novel divided into three parts. In the first, Ken enlists and is trained as an “Operative”, meaning an elite black ops soldier. The second part deals with a deployment to Mtali, a planet locked in faction warfare. It is here that first learns of the atrocity or war. The third part deals with the training for, and actual covert attack on Earth, in which billions of civilians die as a result of his team’s action.
The story is told in the first person. We see the world through Ken’s eyes. The transformation that he undergoes makes for an unusual bildungsroman. From innocent youth to trained killer, to disillusioned soldier, and finally on to mass murderer to some and possibly faceless hero to others. The frightening message of this book is that he is well justified in doing what he does. His nation of Freehold has been attacked for the crime of merely existing. Freehold believes in libertarianism to the extreme. There aren’t any elections because there simply isn’t very much government. Everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants, but on the other hand there is no safety net. Freeholders tend to be self-reliant and independent. This is contrasted with Earthlings, who are passive inhabitants of a corrupt system where egalitarianism and “fairness” have been taken to absurd extremes. Ken Chinran contemptously refers to them as “sheeple” who wait for “someone to do something” in a crisis instead of standing up and improving their lot. Williamson’s characterization is extreme, but these are clear jabs at many present day societies, where people wait for handouts and are happy to give government more power over them as long as they are given food and entertainment (“bread and circuses” is of course an ancient concept). While the book can get a bit preachy at times, the fact that Ken is telling the story makes it very direct. This is one person who comes into contact with things that disgust him, and how he reacts to them. It is easy to see his point of view, especially in these times where supposedly democratic and free countries have seizures without trial and a myriad pointless laws.
The development of Ken himself is as frightening as the story. His training is designed to make him a killer. He and his fellow Operatives take pride in their skills, taunting their enemies as they themselves take insane risks. In the end, though, his conscience catches up with him. He hates himself, he hates his commanding officer for ordering him to do what he has done. Nevertheless, he knows that it was necessary. He knows that what he did, the mass killings and the destruction of society on Earth, were necessary things in order not only for Freehold, but for free people to survive. It is interesting, and Williamson touches on this several times, how Ken survives his suicide mission, but finds out that giving his life would have been easier. He has given more than his life. He has sacrificed his soul.