Cibola Burn | Guest Book Review

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Cory

Publication Date: June 17, 2014

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The fourth novel in James S.A. Corey’s New York Times bestselling Expanse series

The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure.

Manuel’s Review:

Cibola Burn is the Fourth book in The Expanse series. Written by penname James S.A. Corey, writing collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. This book continues the adventures of James Holden and the Rocinante crew. It also focuses on Basia Merton, a Ganymede refugee who scratches out a living on a new planet along with an OPA group. As well as, Elvi. A scientist from the Earth company Royal Charter Expedition. Along with Basia, another main character makes a return from a previous book (Leviathan  Wakes #1), Dimitri Havelock. With whom he was good friends with Detective Miller. As well as a Prelude that includes Roberta Draper and an Epilogue that has Chrisjen Avasarala. 

The Rocinante has taken on a mission in the newest planet to be settled out of the thousands that were revealed in the previous book. Called Ilus by the OPA settlers, and New Terra by the RCE crew, Holden is sent in to play mediator between the two parties who are at each other’s throats. A recent crash of a shuttle that was the attack of the settlers, prompted high-strung politics and old biases. Whether it’s the butting of heads from Earthers and Belters, as we have seen from the series or the scientists versus the blue-collar working minority, tensions are at an all-time high. While Holden prepares what to do, Elvi tries her best to simply do her science. Havelok, on his own, is trying to maintain a semblance of order in the face of an uncertain future and a cold captain.

Early on, Basia clearly leads a terrorist attack on the landing compound of First Landing. Though he pressed the button, he didn’t mean for the shuttle that was landing on it to be affected by the blast. It was, and Elvi and the shuttle from the ship Edward Israel barely manage to survive the impact. Giving Security Chief Murtry ample reason to lay down martial law. Basia is rounded up and spared the fate of his co-conspirators with whom they didn’t share his new-found guilt and shame of not having helped at all. To make matters worse, Holden still had Miller showing up in his head. When things couldn’t get any worse, they do.

This book has been the worst so far. Still FAR better than most good novels. Again hitting its stride by the second half of the book. A seemingly noticeable trend after Abaddon’s Gate, Book Two. Maybe it’s because of two white guys having written about oppression on land that weakened the impact of the things said and done. But I doubt it. Maybe it was that at this point I’m constantly yearning for more protomolecule, and less petty people bickering. But unfortunately, this time around, unlike in the previous books, I honestly believe the abstract nature of the alien nature was beyond the scope and talent of the writers. I have read papers on theoretical astrophysics that made more sense than these jumble of words in paragraph-long exposition.

I understand that writing about aliens can be extremely difficult, and even harder to present humans barely grasping these concepts. Not to mention trying to visually or physically describe the unknown. But unfortunately, the touching of the inner sphere in Abaddon’s Gate paragraph is here on Cibola Burn in pages! Even entire Interludes which are dripping with conundrums and metaphors that grasp at nothing but sound technical. Psychological underpinnings that just utterly miss their mark with trying to pin the contradictory. And those are the parts I even understood. I hope in the next book Protomolcule stuff is actually kept to a minimum, or at the very least, I do hope the “communication” to the PM will be a far more fruitful endeavor than a romp through the thesaurus and my brian matter leaking from my ears.

In the meantime, the more people-centered action luckily ramped up alongside, with us getting great asides that very much informed me about people other than Holden. Knowing what they eat, and dream about is seemingly James S.A. Corey’s very strong suite. I love watching them interact. Sort of like when the only good part of Avengers has always been the back and forth banter, and the sad times of morose or downright scary parts. Amos and Alex are still my go-to guys when it comes to bringing on ‘the juice’ to liven up the story.

I cannot finish up this review without letting you know that bombshell of a WTF, was timed perfectly at the last few pages. Genius. I personally can’t wait to read more about my favorite person in the entire series: Roberta Draper. But for now, this book was by far the weakest in the series. But I still enjoyed it a hell of a ton. So much so at times I didn’t even work, at work. 

About the Author:

James S.A. Corey is the pen name of fantasy author Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. They both live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Find out more about this series and other works at

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