James S.A. Corey – Persepolis Rising: The Expanse, Book 7
As every generation gets older, it tends to grouse about young peoples’ shrinking attention spans. Pop culture these days shows that charge not to be true. Now that the media market is more diversified and less formally structured—something antitrust activists should keep in mind—people are flocking away from easy-to-digest 22-minute network sitcoms. When given a choice, many people are choosing complex shows in a serial format with large casts, nuanced characters that evolve and change over time, well-developed minor characters, and multi-season and multi-book story arcs with multiple moving parts. It is hard for someone with a short attention span to enjoy fare such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, or The Expanse. Much as I continue to enjoy short attention span fare such as Seinfeld or The Simpsons, it is an unabashed good that people who want more thoughtful, complex fare now have that in abundance, too.
Which brings us to book 7 of The Expanse. Thirty peaceful years have passed since book 6. Earth, Mars, and the Belt are finally allies, and the colonies in the 1,300 solar systems accessible through the ring gates are reaching populations in the millions. Mars is lending Earth its terraforming technologies to help the planet recover from the extinction-level meteor strikes launched by Marco Inaros, the villain from the last story arc. The Belt has evolved from its hodgepodge of a legitimate government, the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) and its squabbling IRA and Hezbollah-style factions into a unified, more formal customs union. Its job is to aid traffic through the gates and back, and the process is going surprisingly smoothly, with less infighting and fewer abuses than this economist thinks plausible.
Captain James Holden and Naomi Nagata, both with some gray hairs at this point, are ready to retire together, and sell their shares of their now-aging ship The Rocinante to Bobbie Draper, a former Martian marine and longtime crew member.
Then the trouble starts. The new villain is Winston Duarte, who previously appeared in book 5. He led a mutiny in the Martian military that stole the last remaining sample of the alien protomolecule, a third of Mars’ navy fleet. He and his followers fled through one of the ring gates to found the colony of Laconia, and haven’t been heard from since—the authors probably had this plotline drawn up long ago. He reappears at this point as High Consul of a totalitarian government, with designs on personally becoming emperor of each of the 1,300 known solar systems, including sol system. He backs it up with a new, unstoppable navy with advanced protomolecule technology, and handily defeats the EMC (Earth-Mars Coalition) and Transport Union forces in battle. He has also apparently been attempting to grant himself immortality using protomolecule technology, which should be an interesting development going forward.
The protagonists put up an underground-style resistance as best they can, allowing the Belters’ OPA roots to re-emerge, this time as good guys. The characters also deal with the still-incomplete fallout from Holden and Naomi’s retirement and the change of command. After the big naval battle falls short, the crew lead an escape of the resistance forces, presumably to regroup for Duarte’s major denouement in book 8. Holden is also taken prisoner and taken to Laconia, which should also lead to some interesting situations.