The World is Your Oyster
Last time I talked about James Holden from Leviathan’s Wake in painful drawn-out detail. I talked about how he looked really good on paper but just didn’t translate when he started indirectly causing the deaths of millions of people and driving another man to a mental breakdown. He was a villain who the world treated as a flawed-but-righteous hero.
I also talked about how even despite all of that I still really enjoyed Leviathan Wakes. The world, the mystery, and the game-changing stakes were enough to sell me. Sure Holden wasn’t that great but I was having such a good time and everything else worked so well, it didn’t matter to me very much.
So, now here we are on book two. We can literally do anything. Alien technology just infected Venus, a powerful and wealthy corporation just fell apart, the OSA became a major player in the political world, and Solar War I was averted before it became a full-blown war-of-extermination. There’s so many possibilities for a sequel like this. Any one of those ideas is enough for a sequel but all of them? Damn this book has so much potential!
Wait, why does this chapter say “Holden” at the front? WHY!?!
This is when I started to realize that the author(s) did not want the same thing I wanted. I wanted to place the universe that this book is set in as the main character. I wanted to watch as the solar system developed and changed as a result of some key pivotal moments in history. I was hoping this book would be set like 3 to 5 years later and we would see the universe through new and fresh eyes. We could explore all the craziness that changed as a result of the last book’s conclusion and follow a new adventure.
Instead the author(s) want to tell a story of a cool space adventurer. They wanted to tell the story of a guy who flew around with his crew of friends/romantic partners. He could take odd jobs, get in daring space fights, and kiss ladies directly on the mouth!
This… this is not what I wanted. Even if Holden were the best character ever (and he isn’t) I would not want this. I have so many other stories that are about space adventures with a space adventurer man doing space adventurer man stuff. The Expanse had the opportunity to tell a different story and it doesn’t really seem like it wants to be that.
That and this sequel really wants to be Leviathan Wakes all over again. But let’s just keep it to Holden.
James Holden and the Mystery of How Nobody Shot a Known Terrorist Enforcer
Holden spent the last year shooting space pirates for Fred Johnson of the OSA. He doesn’t like this line of work because… I don’t know? It changed him? He doesn’t like having to track down pirates and shoot them in his military gunship designed for shooting things in space. I suppose this tracks. He didn’t like shooting people in the last book and now he’s shooting people and feeling bad about it. He’s changed so much in the last year, I guess (this book has a lot of problems with telling me Holden has changed without showing me).
My question is what have Mars and Earth been doing in the last year? Last I checked Holden stole a Martian Warship and didn’t give it back. He also threatened an Earth science vessel (I think it was Earth, it doesn’t matter) and stole a bunch of nuclear weapons which he then gave to Fred Johnson (a terrorist in the eyes of both Mars and Earth). How is Holden allowed to fly around at all?
I’m sure Mars and Earth had diplomats that met with one another at some point between this book and the last book. They probably would have said something along the lines of “that Holden guy who started this war and escalated it with his inappropriate broadcasts? Who stole our nukes? Yeah he shouldn’t be allowed to be free and in a military-grade spaceship. Let’s take him out.”
Yet here he is, flying around space without a care in the world except that his coffee machine is busted. How has nobody shot him yet? Earth has a detain-on-sight order, I imagine Mars has something similar. You could argue that Fred Johnson was protecting him but nobody ever says that and none of Holden’s crew mention it when he decides he’s going to burn his ties with Fred. Avasarala even gives the order to detain him so I doubt Fred is protecting him beyond maybe Tycho station. Plus space is gigantic. I seriously doubt the OSA could patrol all of their territory to protect Holden. You could say an armada of foreign ships in OSA territory would trigger a nuclear launch to which I reply “what about those cloaked spaceships? Only need one or two of those.”
It gets worse because now that I think of it, Holden even wants to plan a trip to Luna. You know, the moon orbiting Earth? A planet with a massive navy full of people who are pissed off at him? He’s casually thinking about introducing Naomi to his parents. My first thought when he said that was “wouldn’t they detain you immediately?” followed by “wait wouldn’t they have come after your parents?”
I’m saying that Holden would not be leaving Tycho station ever again unless he wanted to risk death/capture at the hands of the two largest militaries in the history of humanity. Mars and Earth would both be observing Tycho for the moment Holden leaves the station and they would send a small fleet to capture or kill him. Remember: this is a guy who started the largest war in human history and gave nukes to a terrorist group.
By comparison Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks and we immediately went to war and made him public enemy #1. He managed to elude the US military for many years but he was always a priority target for elimination and he was eventually found and killed as an enemy combatant. Holden has a much higher body count (I know it’s fantasy), he stole the means to inflict even more casualties, and he has a known address and home base.
This comes back to one of my biggest issues with Holden: the world was built for him. It was a little bit of a problem in the last book but it becomes glaringly apparent that he’s the Main Character and the rest of the characters are NPCs. Everyone else is part of the world and the scenery and they have to act bland and boring and “normal” so that Holden can come along and be a daring adventurer who comes in and shakes everything up. The world serves Holden, Holden does not serve the world. Holden is not part of the world, he’s above it looking down.
The UN and Martian navies never go after Holden because then the story would be over. The Dungeon Master would be bad if he just killed the Player Character! I cannot stress this enough: this isn’t a story about humans colonizing space, this is a story about a space cowboy being “awesome”. The world exists so that Holden can play around in it but at the same time the world doesn’t really fit what Holden does. I’ll get to some examples as we trudge along through this slog of a sequel.
Speaking of NPCs let’s talk about our other non-Holden character this book around. We have Avasarala (that’s another blog post), Prax, and Bobbie. Avasarala is a politician on Earth who sees much of the world through a distant lens. She’s trying to prevent a war from happening (well, another war) and she actually seems like she’s a hero trying to save the day in her own way (now that I think about it).
Prax is literally experiencing an apocalyptic event when a mirror falls onto the moon he lives on and people begin to starve to death. Society breaks down and to make things worse his daughter has been kidnapped. He thinks on multiple occasions that she could be dead or she’s being sex trafficked. It’s horrifying and gritty and awful.
Bobbie is a marine who just watched her entire platoon get wiped out by a space monster. She watches, and re-watches, her squad getting literally torn in half like they were made of paper. Guts and blood spill out into the vacuum of space and she herself is facing down her own death as the monster draws near, only to explode in her face at the last moment. She’s suffering from severe (and fresh) post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to do anything to avoid thinking about the inhuman horror she experienced.
Holden is mad that his coffee machine doesn’t work. That darn thing! Gosh, we’ll need to get that fixed right away because I need my roasted beans dawg! He then mocks a space pirate for pushing his crappy ship so hard that it breaks down.
Do you see the problem here? One story is about the political aftermath of the first book, one story talks about child trafficking, one story talks about shattered mental health, and one story is about a space hero stopping space pirates and being “cool”. Possibly while roleplaying Mal from Firefly.
Tone is incredibly important to nail down. It really feels like one author had an idea for how the world should be and the other author had a different idea. Or that one author was in charge of the world and one author was in charge of being the main character of that world.
As someone who wrote a story with another person, it’s hard to keep the tone consistent across two people. We had the advantage that our writing was a series of linked-but-self-contained stories. I could not imagine trying to successfully string that into a consistent and coherent book series.
The end result is that Holden is pulling the story in one direction when the other two characters (I don’t really fit Ava in this equation because she’s not boots-on-the-ground) really want to go another direction. The result is some glaring tonal whiplash. Holden doesn’t work for the other gritty dystopian world that Prax and Bobbie inhabit. He’s not supposed to think about child trafficking, he’s supposed to be saving the day and getting the girl.
The Luke Skywalker Problem: Or Why We Don’t Send Joe Biden to Personally Spy on The Russians
Holden gets a call from Fred. He needs boots on the ground to figure out what’s going on at Ganymede and I guess Holden is the only one close enough? That’s strange because Fred is part of the OUTER PLANETS ALLIANCE and Ganymede is a moon on one of said outer planets. He’s also been recognized as, at a minimum, a legitimate power and authority. Surely he would have some sort of liaison on Ganymede already, no? Or at least a few undercover agents.
But the world exists for Holden. This is a table-top RPG world crafted with player characters in mind and Holden and his group are those player characters. So he’s the only one within range of Ganymede so he needs to be the one to gather information for Fred.
Sci-fi has these contrivances all the time in order to get the main character at the center of the action. In fact this isn’t just limited to sci-fi but all media. Even harder, more-grounded sci-fi such as Star Trek often has the trope of “you’re the only ship in range.” I wouldn’t fault the story if this were the only time it treated Holden as the protagonist or even if it just didn’t happen as frequently as it did.
Even accepting that it’s contrived though: why would Holden agree to this other than the fact that this is a quest given by a quest-giver in an RPG? Seriously, let’s think about this. Holden is the most recognizable man in the solar system after starting a war and then escalating it (twice). He’s on the two superpowers’ hit list (who haven’t taken him out yet, but whatever). Said superpowers are currently orbiting the place he is being asked to go with enough ships and marines to easily detain or kill him.
What is in it for him? Money? He doesn’t seem to ever get paid by Fred for this job and doesn’t seem to care about money beyond necessity. Protection? Well he hasn’t seemed to need protection as nobody ever came after him over this last year (I assume, otherwise they’re woefully incompetent). Later in the book he breaks away from Fred and never thinks “now Earth and Mars will come after us in full force” and Fred never tells him that he’s been running protection for him. He also doesn’t seem to like Fred so I don’t think he would do it as a favor to Fred or the OPA. Is he going for the relief effort? There are way more qualified people to organize the relief effort and way more unqualified people to do the freight hauling.
Simply put, any reason he had to go there outside of “it’s part of the adventure, the DM/author wants us to go there” doesn’t justify the extreme amount of risk and lack of benefit to Holden here. He doesn’t know what’s going on, that children are being kidnapped, or that the protomolecule is on the loose. He’s walking into a place where society is rapidly unraveling that’s swarming with enemy soldiers and spaceships. Any one person recognizes him then it’s game over.
This is the Luke Skywalker Problem. Luke often goes undercover in Expanded Universe books. Luke, the guy who blew up the first Death Star and defeated Vader/The Emperor (at least to the general populace’s knowledge). Luke the guy who is rebuilding the Jedi Order. That Luke. We don’t send Joe Biden to personally do espionage in Russia. Everyone would recognize him just as they should recognize Luke and definitely should recognize Holden.
Not to mention the obvious: this whole situation is at a minimum partially his fault. He started a shooting war between these groups and gave their nukes to the OSA. Things have been extra tense as the political and military climates have shifted in the past year as a direct result of him lighting the powder keg (repeatedly). He’s the last person in the entire solar system that should be going anywhere near a tense Mexican stand-off situation with billions of lives at stake.
Go Undercover, But Only When You Don’t Want to Roleplay and It Isn’t an Inconvenience to You
Alright fine we’re here. The DM/author said that we have to go in and be the focal point so that’s what Holden is doing. So how is he going to fool facial recognition systems and the military? A scraggly beard that everyone sees through and wouldn’t fool any facial recognition systems at all? Perfect.
That’s stupid but I guess it weirdly fits the character of James Holden: a cocksure moron with a lot of poor, idiotic plans.
Holden I guess is supposed to be righteous right? So he can’t act like anything less than that apparently – he has a hard time adjusting to being a criminal. Again he’s been a criminal for the last year. In fact he’s been the #1 criminal for the vast majority of the human race for the past year. Still they go through with this plan. Naomi pretends to be the captain, Holden tries to not stick out (and fails) and we move on.
Then comes the part with the shake-down at the docks. Now I as the reader am made aware pretty soon that the marines who saw Holden immediately recognized who he was and relayed that back to Earth. So I know (or will know) his plan has failed and his cover was blown already. Holden doesn’t know that though. He should still be in character.
A guy comes up and tries to run a scam on Naomi that almost dupes her. Holden, like a main character who doesn’t belong in this world (the world in question this time around is the world of undercover work) says a poorly written heroic line about being Mr. “Not-Putting-Up-With-Your-Bullshit” and telling the dock worker trying to shake him down that he has a gun and he’ll use it to hold his security detail at gunpoint while Amos beats the crap out of the dock guy.
I get this a lot in my own D&D campaigns. The players want to push back against the world when the world tries to screw them over. It’s harder to do that in real life but in a fantasy world where you have magic and weapons the decision is easier to make. The problem is this is a legitimate dock worker. He has legitimate security with him. You can threaten him right now, but threatening him should be a big deal. You are blowing your cover as not-the-captain with only a beard to protect your identity (a beard that at least 2 groups of people see through). This could end your trip to Ganymede in a hurry if Earth or Mars find out. More than that, you’re threatening a guy who can just call in more station security. The argument Holden seems to be thinking is something like “what’s he going to do? Tell his boss that I didn’t bribe him?” And, yes that’s actually a possibility dumbass. You don’t know how corrupt this whole system is and that might just be a customary thing here on Ganymede. More likely he’s going to tell his boss “this guy threatened me with a gun” leaving out the bribery, and they’ll converge on you with overwhelming force.
Holden did this though because he’s the main character. He can get away with it. He can break the rules of the world. If Joe Schmoe got off his ship and told the dock master that he was Mr. Gives No Shits and that he had a gun, Joe Schmoe would be lucky to make it to prison with all his arms and legs. But because Holden is a main character he can threaten legitimate authorities (because they’re corrupt and he’s righteous does not make them not have power over him). He gets away with it because if he didn’t, the story couldn’t happen. And nobody ever reports that the weird guy with the ugly beard who looks suspiciously like the biggest war criminal in the solar system threatened to beat one of their dockmasters to a pulp.
And the worst part of this is yet to come. I have one more criticism but I’m going to put that right here in the next section…
One-Trick Pony: Or Why I Lost Faith in the Writer
This is more of an extension of the last problem. You’re supposed to be undercover, what with you being the biggest war criminal in human history with a very recognizable and punchable face. There’s a food riot. You decide now is a time to intervene and do something about it.
The food being taken off the moon is really stupid for a number of reasons that we talked about on the podcast. I don’t want to get into it in detail but it doesn’t make sense for them to do this in the way it “made sense” to Stalin or the UK to continue to ship grain exports while their own people (the ones they didn’t like) were starving.
Holden marches to the front of the line. He wants to make sure people don’t get shot for the crime of being hungry. The author appears to be showing off that noble side to him. He sees people in need, he’s going to help. How does he help? Violence and threats of violence because he has no other useful skills.
First Holden threatens to open fire on the guards who would probably blow Holden away before he could take them all out. Then the guards would turn on the people and a lot of people would die before they overwhelmed the guards and got the food. Naomi comes in and instead threatens to have an OSA gunship come in and strip the ship. Huh?
Did I miss something here? This is a Mao ship. They’re kind of a big deal. They probably have a small fleet of ships themselves. Even if they didn’t they have a fleet of Earth and Mars ships in orbit around this moon as we speak. They could probably blow up anything the OSA sends out to strip this ship. This also sounds like something that could easily heat up the conflict that’s going on in orbit which could lead to all these people getting this food only for them to get orbitally bombarded to death. Why not? They’re already taking food away and letting the moon die off. Not to mention a fight does eventually break out for other reasons that results in all these people dying.
My two biggest issues are: 1) this is a complex problem solved by simple means and 2) his crew don’t admonish him for this beyond “you’re acting like Miller”. The first problem is one that goes for this and the dock-master problem. There are many ways to go about solving the issue. It might be that Holden has to swallow his pride and pay a bribe to a corrupt dockmaster or he has to find a way to get the shipment of grain diplomatically. Instead the author takes it as an opportunity for James Holden to take the paragon(?) option and combine it with his I’m-A-Main-Character attitude.
The second issue is that his crew (or Holden himself) never think about their actions as having any consequences. They threatened a dockmaster because that guy was a dick and deserved it… then we never think about it again. Noami doesn’t go “we should’ve just bribed him, James. He could cause a ton of trouble for us.” Because, again, he is a dockmaster regardless of how corrupt he is. He has official connections and definitely can cause you a lot of headaches. Which could lead to Holden discussing his moral position and what’s this, we have inter-personal moral conflict where there’s no clear winner (kinda) and we learn more about their characters (in this supposed character-piece)? Or when they piss off the Mao corporate goons they don’t go “hey we pissed off Earth and Mars, should we really be pissing off the largest corporation in the solar system?” Yes the company is evil and incompetent and by the end of the book they’re getting dismantled anyway but they can’t possibly know that.
These two instances (the dockmaster and the food riot) both contribute to the bloat of an already very bloated book while telling us nothing about Holden other than he’s an impulsive jerk who is always correct because nobody ever tells him otherwise.
Helping Prax: What Holden Could Have Been
Here’s where I look at maybe what Holden could have been if he were written competently and not as Main Character Man. Prax comes to him and asks him for help finding his daughter. Keep in mind Holden was supposed to deliver supplies (not nearly enough) to help Ganymede and figure out what happened here and so far all he has managed to do is almost get into two fights and blow his cover every chance he could get. But sure let’s help this random stranger.
I think Holden could have been “the man who cares” in a world that doesn’t. He’s a righteous man because he believes in helping people and going the extra mile. He got that from his upbringing of being a farm boy with 8 parents. That’s the kind of unique background and upbringing that nobody else would have. Maybe he even grew up a bit sheltered. He enlisted into the military and became disillusioned and his temper got the better of him, causing him to throw a punch at a superior officer and get kicked out. Dejected, he retires to an ice freighter and convinces himself that the work he is doing is good work and that’s all he’ll ever amount to.
So when a guy like Prax comes up and asks for help, yeah he’ll help because it’s the right thing to do. I can see this character in there. I don’t know if that’s what the author is trying to do with him or not. The groundwork is there and everyone in the supporting cast certainly tells me that Holden is righteous over and over again. But he also started the greatest war in history just one book ago and had not a single thought of regret afterwards.
I actually like this potential character. But the righteous and just man in a lawless world… that requires some finesse. Finesse that these two books have lacked (that and again, not starting a giant super war). The thing is I imagine a guy who puts others first in a cynical world that will chew you up and spit you out, that guy constantly gets fucked over. I can see him getting into hot water with a lot of bad people who won’t like him and I can see him falling apart and ending up on an ice freighter without a future. The character who puts all these people ahead of himself? That guy has to live with a lot of consequences to his actions. He doesn’t always get ahead and sometimes he gets really far behind.
The James Holden we actually get though? He gets a girl (two of them), an awesome ship, a loyal crew, all the money he could ever need (apparently), and he gets absolved of all his crimes for some reason. He gets to threaten people without consequences and end up lauded as a hero.
Earth Marines Actually Suck After All
Here’s another instance of Holden being a main character. As they’re escaping Ganymede he is captured by UN Marines. They restrain Holden and Amos – shooting the latter in the back of the head point-blank with a bean bag round that somehow doesn’t concuss or kill him. So this is game over right? Or at the very least they’ll be put in a detention cell and will have to figure a way out from there. Luckily for them there’s some explosions and the Martians and the UN are shooting each other. Time for a daring escape perhaps!
The fight is over almost immediately. He and Amos break out of their zip ties like they weren’t even there and beat up a bunch of trained marines in full armor with guns. It’s bizarre right? Presumably these marines have been well-trained in combat. Presumably these marines didn’t try to punch (and fail) their superior officer and spend 5 of the last 6 years on an ice freighter. But here they are getting bested by tied-up prisoners who they out number and out gun as if it were nothing.
This is just more main character syndrome to me. The world has already fallen apart in my estimation. It’s more of a tabletop game where the guards are NPCs to be bested rather than a realistic world where they’re fighting the most well-trained military machine in human history. This isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back or anything. The camel is already down and out, but we keep throwing bales of hay on his carcass anyway.
Frederick Johnson Could Have Spared Us All and Shot Holden in the Face Right Here
This is a moment I actually liked because the world finally pushes back against Holden’s Main Character Syndrome.
Holden is all angry that there was a protomolecule sample on Ganymede. You read that right. After failing to figure out what happened on Ganymede he took a side-quest to find Prax’s daughter and stumbled ass-backwards into the main quest again. This is about Holden so I don’t want to dwell on how convenient that is.
Anyway the protomolecule was on Ganymede and Holden immediately jumps to the conclusion that Fred did it. We the audience are supposed to think this is irrational and stupid, and it is. Holden often does stupid things but I think we’re supposed to think he’s gotten more irrational between books. Like he was smart before, but he isn’t now perhaps?
Naomi counterpoints that Fred couldn’t have possibly done it. He’s our good friend, Fred. Come on man! We’re supposed to see this is the correct thing because Naomi is smart. Also we the audience know Fred (kinda) and he seems to be an okay guy. So he probably didn’t do it.
Both sides are unreasonable. We shouldn’t go in and threaten to murder Fred or anything but at the same time we can’t rule him out as a potential suspect right now. There’s a nice middle ground here and there’s a smart/diplomatic way to approach this.
So of course Holden barges into Fred’s office and threatens to murder him if he had anything to do with the protomolecule. I again have to wonder how Holden has survived this past year. He pissed off the two biggest militaries in the solar system 1 year ago. Recently he pissed off one of the largest corporations in the system (it’s possible they didn’t know it was him but people recognized him with such regularity that I won’t discount the possibility). Now he’s here in this office threatening the leader of the 3rd faction – whose base he is currently staying in.
I love that Fred does not take any of Holden’s bullshit. Fred tells him exactly what he should have told him. Namely, Fred doesn’t have to tell Holden a goddamn thing because Holden isn’t the Main Character of this world (he is, but Fred gets to challenge him on it). He tells Holden that he’s tired of all the bullshit and whining and Holdenisms he’s had to endure over the past year. He then tells Holden that if he ever talks to him that way again he’ll detain the whole crew, impound his ship, and personally slap him across his stupid ugly face.
Great! Finally someone is treating Holden as part of the world! This is one of the few moments in this book that I felt like Holden served the world and not the world serving Holden. Holden came in with his Main Character bullshit and the NPC told him that, although he’s an NPC, he’s an NPC with a lot of power. He can exert that power over Holden and isn’t afraid to do it.
If we had more moments like this, of people telling Holden he’s shit when he does stupid things, of consequences to Holden’s brash actions… this would be serviceable at least. At least I would feel like Holden belongs here instead of feeling like he’s a player character murder hobo-ing his way across the solar system.
If I Keep Telling You That You’re Not The Man I Fell in Love With Will You Get The Idea That You Had a Major Character Change Off Screen?
I do want to make special mention to Holden seemingly changing off-screen between books. It’s been a year so some development would almost certainly happen. Except it didn’t.
Holden is still the same idiot of the first book but all of the characters, especially Naomi, want me to believe otherwise. They keep telling him (and us, the readers) that Holden is acting more suicidal just like Miller! Except not really? He’s doing stupid shit without a thought for the consequences. That’s not new. That’s just Holden. None of this is new and you can’t gaslight me into thinking otherwise. I’m on to your ways, book!
Later on she will say “I thought I lost you forever” but he seemingly finds himself. Put a pin in that. The author is telling you, the reader, that he was like that asshole Miller but now he’s like the James Holden you know and love. He’s the good boy that would commit indirect genocide but would never directly harm someone. That’s a Miller thing to do. He’s not Miller. Just… I need you to know, in the bluntest and most direct way possible (I’m imitating the writing style of the book here, that’s the joke) that he has found himself and he is now the James Holden of old and he has fulfilled his character arc. Okay? Okay.
Holden’s Crew Also Sucks
I had a long spiel for this but the title really says it all doesn’t it? They do suck. Why do I say that? Because they enable him. They congratulate him for doing things that will get them all in hot water. They celebrate him when he does things that he chastises others for doing. There will come a point at the end of this book especially when Holden will murder a man in cold blood and nobody will call him on that. Nobody will ostracize him from the group. Nobody tells him to find his own ride back. Nobody will let him march off to die in a blaze of glory the way Miller had to. They enable him because he’s one of them. He may be the King of Main Character Town but they’re his dumbass Yes-Man courtiers.
Everyone Else Sucks Too
Also everyone outside of his crew sucks. They’re thinking about how Holden is a self-righteous asshole but how that’s totally not a bad thing. Bobbie and Avasarala like him. Some of them even find him attractive. This is the most infuriating part. I know I keep harping on it but everyone’s reaction to Holden is so tame and polite. They like him and his ideals even if they think he and his ideals are stupid. Because they are stupid. The author clearly likes Holden and it bothers me.
Voting but Only If I Win
Holden decides to give back to his crew. He sees that his crew may be upset that he, as captain, is making unilateral decisions without them. Mostly about the break-up with Fred Johnson thing though, nobody seems to be pissed at any of the other many many things he has done. Holden’s solution is: let’s put everything to a vote. After he suggests this and everybody is on board he is constantly upset that they are voting against him and starts to think maybe he shouldn’t have given power to his stupid subordinates who want things other than what he wants. He then makes unilateral decisions later in this book (and spoilers: next book too) without consulting any of his crew. I hate him. This is just more Main Character syndrome but it’s also more character flaws. If anyone ever acknowledged the fact that he initiated a voting system and then immediately tried to backtrack when things went his way, that would be one thing. But instead people still throw themselves at him, genitals-first, and nobody calls him out. I suspect because it’s not supposed to be seen as a flaw or the authors didn’t think it’s that big of a deal. It’s just another example on why I hate Holden so much.
Crowd-Funding A Solution to Child Abduction
I want to pay special attention to this one because it’s so stupid. Prax is trying to raise money from any contacts he might know. It’s a very meager amount of money but it’s all he has. He’s looking at hiring some security details with eyes and ears on several stations across the system. I thought that the story was going to go that Prax bought their services and they helped him locate where the bad guys were, but he doesn’t have the money to pay them to get the bad guys. So Holden does the job for free, knowing that a child’s life is at stake. It’s a moment of him making a sacrifice for the greater good and shows that he tries to do the right thing.
Instead Holden says “nah you contracted with us bro. Now let’s figure out how we can make money.” Turns out they run a kickstarter and blast it on all channels… and it works. How does this work? This is James Holden, Public Enemy #1.
Let’s look at this from a real world-ish perspective. Let’s say 9/11 happens. The US invades Afghanistan. A year passes. Anytime we hear the name “Osama Bin Laden” on the news it’s always something bad. Obviously it’s bad, this asshole killed thousands of people in a terrorist attack – fuck that guy. So then around this time, 1 year of propaganda and anti-Osama news pieces, and a memorial for the brave men and women who died that day… we get a kick starter message. Osama is asking for your help with funding. He needs you to send him money because, and you have to trust him, this guy he just met is missing his daughter. He’s going to get her back but he needs your money to help fund him.
How would you feel about that? Probably shocked that Osama would send a video like that. Probably pissed off too. Probably wondering where that money is actually going and who that man really is and why we haven’t blown him up yet. We’re definitely not thinking “where can I send the money and how much can I give you? Do you accept increments of $5000??”
Or if you don’t want to use Osama (even though Holden is definitely a terrorist) how about the Princip route? Princip set off the powder keg that was World War I the way Holden set off Solar War I. Sure Princip actually did the assassination so if you want to come up with an alternate-history where he didn’t do it himself, go nuts. My point is: Princip didn’t get to run free. Even if he did, if he sent out a telegraph to everyone in the world (somehow) to kickstart saving this guy’s child… no. I don’t like you, sir. I don’t trust that you’re not going to just use that money to buy more guns and shoot more Hapsburgs. I do not want my money going toward you even if we weren’t in the largest war in human history (at that time).
A guy like Holden is sending out messages on the airwaves which sparks a powder keg that leads to the complete destabilization of galactic politics leading to an almost full-scale war. A year goes by and we hear nothing from Holden but with the way media coverage is portrayed on Earth – it’s very likely they’re doing smear pieces on dumbass James Holden. They wouldn’t have to dig up much honestly. “He was once part of the military but tried to punch a superior officer. He’s always hated Earth.” They would turn this guy into a pariah. Now he’s asking for money on all air waves? Who would possibly send this man money? This man is a fucking terrorist who wants us all to die! Even if you did want to send him money, doing that is tantamount to funding terrorist activities! Let’s also not forget you have no proof that this man’s daughter exists and even if she did you have no evidence that the money you send will go towards finding her.
Kickstarter has many MANY projects that go unfulfilled or were just scams. You can go on youtube and find some of the biggest named ones in their own little documentaries. Those are from people you don’t know. You do know the name James Holden, though. Are you really going to trust this guy? Even if you did somehow believe that this wasn’t a scam?
Also I wasn’t going to mention it but I re-listened to our episode on this book and I feel that I have to. Holden (somehow) gets more money than he even needs to pay for all the necessities of this expedition. His Kickstarter goal was exceeded and then-some. What does he do with all that extra stretch-goal money? As a lawful good citizen he obviously gives it back t- of course he kept it. What did you expect? He keeps a large sum of the money for expenses and gives Prax the rest “for Mei’s college fund”. That’s not what those people signed up for though and I am entirely sure he never told his generous donors that he just kept the money for he and Prax’s benefit.
The authors probably should’ve just cut this whole thing out about the crowd-funding though. If they had something to say about crowd-funding, I’m not seeing it. Holden never seems to worry about money anyway. Even after he leaves Fred’s employ he thinks about how great it is to be free, not about how much it’s going to suck to be broke. Leaving this in once again reinforces that the world is here to serve James Holden, Holden is not here to serve the world. Holden is the Main Character and we need to remember that. He’s not a part of this world, he’s above it.
Shooting A War Criminal In The Face….
I’m so tired of writing about this guy. I’m shocked and baffled nobody else seems to have major problems with Holden the way Ben and I did. I think that’s the case more-so in the second book. So let’s get to Holden’s big finale.
Holden has to get to the flagship and flip on the IFF trackers on for all those abomination monsters before they hit Mars.. He’s going to go to Admiral Nguyen’s and meet a redshirt who will die for him. After he stumbles into a horror set-piece for all of 5 seconds, he quickly evades all enemies and dispels the tension.
Once he’s up in the flagship’s bridge (or wherever we are) Nguyen is there to greet him. He’s presumably dying of radiation poisoning. Holden tells him to flip on the IFF trackers. Nguyen tells him that he’ll flip the trackers back on, but only if Holden gets him off the ship. Holden replies by shooting him directly in the face and murdering him in cold blood.
Which is what that is, by the way, that’s murder. Admiral Nguyen surrendered and was unarmed. So that’s murder That’s an actual crime and possibly a war crime in this case.. Would a just and righteous man really shoot the Admiral in cold blood like that? He doesn’t seem to mind at all and will even brag about it later. Naomi even says “nah he deserved it, fuck that guy. I know you’ll feel bad about it later and that’s enough for me.”
Well that’s not enough for me. Also… this sounds familiar. Hold on. Let me just… yes! Last book! There was a situation just like this! A man unleashed a virus on a human population and was being held at gunpoint. Then Holden shot him in the fac… wait… no that wasn’t Holden… that was Detective Miller.
So Miller shot the big baddie asshole in the face. Holden freaks out, yells at Miller that he needed to stand trial, and then he and his crew proceed to mentally destroy what was left of Miller’s very fragile psyche. Maybe he made the excuse that it wasn’t his fault Miller wanted to die, he was already mentally unstable which was Miller’s fault. If he hadn’t had an underlying deathwish then Holden couldn’t have pushed him to suicide.
Here we are now in the exact same circumstance. The big bad has surrendered. Rather than wanting this guy to stand trial, however, he’s okay with shooting Nguyen in the face. I cannot stress this enough so let me repeat it one more time. This is the exact situation from the first book except with Holden in place of Miller.
Holden doesn’t insist that Nguyen stand trial, something Nguyen actually wants to do by the way. He simply threatens Nguyen to do what Holden wants and, when he doesn’t get his way, shoots Nguyen in the face. Last book Holden specifically wanted a man (a man with a much higher body count than Nguyen) to stand trial and when that man was shot in the face he threw a fit and destroyed a man’s sanity. This is bad writing.
There could be an argument that this is Holden becoming more like Miller. Except no, you can’t argue that and also shut up. The authors went to great pains to tell me, over and over, that he was becoming more like Miller for the first two-thirds of this book. Toward the end and before he went on Nguyen’s flagship he does something that “brings the old Holden back” and he and Naomi reconcile. So no, this is not the author trying to show that Holden is changing as a person or becoming more like Miller. This is the author being bad at writing. This is Holden being a hypocritical piece of shit. This is Naomi hand-waving Holden being a piece of shit (and thus being a piece of shit herself). This sucks.
As it stands it just seems like Holden did a total about face on a major incident from the last book without any real actual reflection. No, it’s not enough that he “will feel bad about it later” because it wasn’t enough that Miller felt bad about it, you still fucking destroyed this man. Plus Holden doesn’t feel bad about it later, how shows up at the finale with Avasarala and Mao and brags about shooting Nguyen to death.
I hate this inconsistent writing. It’s either he’s supposed to be becoming like Miller and we fail to see that in action until right now at this moment (before he did a lot of stupid stuff but… he’s always done stupid stuff). Or he’s veered away from becoming like Miller and is trying to clean up his act and him shooting Nguyen in the face isn’t a moment of symmetry at all. It’s either the author doesn’t know what they wrote or they conveyed what they wrote very poorly with a lot of telling rather than showing.
Holden Deez Nuts
That’s it then. I’m done with my place in the series. We were originally thinking of reading more but… why? Why bother? I think the series isn’t for me. I like that this series is a lot of peoples’ jam. I get why people like this. I get why I liked it. I don’t get why people tolerate Holden. Holden is a loud and annoying hypocrite who consistently gets thought of as the Big Damn Hero even by people who think he’s a moron. He should be enemy Numero Uno but because the world breaks its back to service him he usually gets by committing major war crimes with a mere slap on the wrist and a little bit of sex on the side. He’s consistently the worst part of both of the books I read and… I’m done. The series isn’t what I wanted out of it and I think that’s okay. It’s not like me disliking the series and writing this overly long blog about its main character is going to do it any harm.
I can also say that I learned a lot from this book series and from Holden. I learned a lot of things to do from a writing project. I learned a lot of things to avoid when writing characters. This will be immensely helpful if I ever write a joint project again because there’s obviously an inconsistency between the two authors’ contributions to the project.
Despite all my misgivings I did really enjoy the first book and I took a lot away from the second book. I think in that way the book was very valuable to me. I’m bad at writing conclusions so… ooga booga.
Quick Hold(en) my Beer!
That was supposed to be the conclusion but there were a few other topics I wanted to briefly address. Here goes:
The Paladin Argument: I saw on reddit that Holden is intentionally an annoying lawful good Paladin who has to adjust to the world he’s in and that there’s a real conflict between his morales and the world. I think I thoroughly went over why I don’t think that’s the case. Number 1 because he’s a hypocrite and he’s not “lawful good” he’s “lawful good but only when it’s convenient for me and fuck you if you disagree with me.” He also doesn’t suffer consequences to make him actually feel the friction between his idealistic ideals (which suck anyway) and the world. Again, everyone thinks he’s kind of an idiot but… like a dreamy idealistic idiot with a good heart…. Instead of being Public Enemy #1, being labeled a terrorist, and having shoot-to-kill space fleets sent after him by the major powers he gets to have a girlfriend, a free spaceship, and endless amounts of fame and money. There’s no conflict here.
The “it gets better with time” argument: so this is 2 books into a 7 book series. The Paladin argument can also be lumped in here with the “he changes later in the series”. These are long books. They’re 550-650 pages each and they really don’t need to be (that’s a topic for another discussion). If he eventually morphs into a guy who isn’t an annoying asshole (something I doubt even happens) I don’t want to wait thousands and thousands of pages into a series. I don’t buy this (somewhat of a strawman) argument.
Multiple Points of View: Here’s something that annoys me. They throw out every POV from the previous book… except Holden. I read the first third of the third book and I like 2 of the characters and want to know more… and I really wish that James Holden wasn’t the lynchpin holdin’ (heh) this universe together.
The Synopsis of the 4th book: I couldn’t help but read the synopsis for the 4th book. There’s tension between colonists wanting to go to new worlds through the ring and the navies of the solar system that are camped outside the ring. Who do we send to be a mediator? James Fucking Holden. Seriously? This guy is about the least qualified person, in the entire solar system, to be a mediator. I’m not even joking. I know this isn’t entirely fair criticism, I didn’t read the book. But if that’s seriously it then what in the actual fuck is wrong with the people of this universe?
Anyway I’m done. I’ve exhausted this topic and myself. Good day sir!