Review: Nemesis Games by James SA Corey

“See, that’s what civilization is," [Amos] said. "Bunch of stories. That’s all.”

*Very mild spoilers ahead, but not too many*

After finishing Book Four of The Expanse series, I wrote that I was craving more backstory for Amos and Alex. No lie, I just went back and read my review to make sure. I think author James Corey (a pseudonym for the writing duo behind the series) and I must be completely in sync on this because that is exactly what Book Five has done. So utterly satisfying! I loved getting to know the crew better in this episode. It’s going to add to the story moving forward and I hope that the authors continue to incorporate the added character complexities in the remaining books.

Upon returning from their venture to Ilus/New Terra, the planet beyond the alien Rings, the crew of the Rocinante are docked at the OPA’s Tycho Station for major repairs. This gives Amos an opportunity to travel to Earth to mourn the loss of a previous friend; and Alex to journey to Mars to put old relationships to rest. Naomi also has some serious unfinished business, and a phone call draws her away and into the web of her messy past. Holden stays at Tycho Station to watch over the Roci’s repairs.

So many solar systems beyond Medina Station and the alien gates, and humanity is packing up at record speed to take ships through, for the opportunity to colonise new worlds. Two related themes occurred to me while reading Nemesis Games.

In the last books, I loved the notion of “doors and corners,” and the need to watch for unexpected trouble when heading into battle. This time, I resonated with the idea of what can grow and thrive in the “cracks” at the edges of things, the people and ideas that thrive in the margins. Amos sees this on his trips to Ceres and Earth. He’s attuned to the folks who are marginalised, and have to survive by their wits, taking every small advantage they can.
“Adapt or die.

If Amos could be said to have a philosophy, it would be that. The concrete replaces the forest. You get in its way, you get paved over. If you can find a way to live in the cracks, you can thrive anywhere. There were always cracks.

The anthill of Ceres bustled around him. There were people at the top of the food chain buying snacks at the kiosks…The people in the cracks were there too. A girl no older than ten with long dirty hair and a pink jumpsuit two sizes too small eyed the travellers without staring at them. Waiting for someone to set their luggage or their hand terminal down long enough to be snatched away…

Living in the cracks, but living. Adapting, not dying.”
Amos sees the marginalised because he was one of those kids. He still is, in some ways, on the Rocinante. He’s found his place, though, and is truly seen by his found family–his crew mates. Successful adaptation, in his case.

What grows out of the cracks is often the unintended, the things that we in society ignore and place no value on. The privileged don’t see them, but these people and ideas can be strong and take hold. Often this is to the betterment of society–movements towards fairness, equality and social justice, for example; but sometimes there are unintended consequences that cause harm.

This brings me to the second theme: unintended consequences. Citizens of Earth and Mars are rushing out of their home solar system to claim new planets beyond the gates. The OPA controls Medina station, the power to regulate passage through the gates. Everyone’s got their eyes on the prize. But while some people have so much to gain, others have much to lose. They grow and flourish in the cracks where no one is bothering to look.

Adapt, or die.

In Nemesis Games, there is messy politics and the dynamics of power and oppression. When those who perceive themselves as powerless in this novel rise up from the cracks, it isn’t pretty. The ensuing violence cannot be forgiven, but it can be understood. When things change–economic systems, the climate, political ideals, values–even for good, there are always people left behind. If we ignore those who are left behind, or ignore those who are disadvantaged, we do so at our own peril.

And there is a lot of peril and destruction in Nemesis Games. Holden gets it, and talks about all of the people who stand to lose their purpose with the changes brought by the ability to access new worlds.
“They’re looking at the future, and they’re seeing that no one needs them anymore. Everything they do will be easier in a gravity well, and they can’t go there. We have to make some kind of future that has a place for them in it. Because unless we do, they have literally nothing to lose. It’s already gone.”
Only change is constant. The solar system changes once again in Nemesis games, and everyone has to scramble to cope. The ever cantankerous but marvellous Avasarala sums it up nicely and sets us up for Book Six, I suspect:
“‘There’s a thing that happens,’ Avasarala said, ‘when unthinkable things become thinkable. We’re in a moment of chaos. Everything’s up for grabs. Legitimacy itself is up for grabs. That’s where we are now.’”

A final note: I have to say that Amos has now become perhaps my favourite main character in this series. Reading his backstory in Memory’s Legion, the book of interstitial short stories that flesh out the main book narrative, really helped. I seem to have a fondness for Jack Reacher-type characters, forthright and not afraid of a fight, and that's Amos to a tee. I like Amos very much because he lacks empathy and a natural moral compass, so he has chosen to be good, and to model himself after his friends. That makes it all the more wonderful.


Read A Series: The Expanse


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