Cibola Burn is the fourth book in the “Expanse” series, and the first one to take place mainly on a planet outside our solar system. The gate system opened up by the alien “protovirus” has opened up a Pandora’s Box for humanity, and a mass exodus to the stars has begun – some with “official” blessing, most not so much. A large part of that has to do with the highly unstable political situation, where multiple parties claim to be the ones “in charge”. No single party actually is.
Some explorers and settlers had managed to use the gate system before the temporary military shutdown, and now some “official” expeditions are coming into conflict with pre-existing colonies on new, habitable planets. Foremost here is the planet Ilus, where a squatter colony’s claims is contested by a large, corporate expedition, and tensions are running high. Enter Holden and crew, and diplomats and negotiators. Yeah, right. Fat chance of that working out.
In a way it’s a bit of a Western, in its setup. Small, plucky settlers are being menaced by corporate power, threatening to steal their claim. Into this setup, a “neutral lawman” rides in. But of course, it’s not quite that simple; the colonists are no angels, and while the corporate head is a stereotypical Bad Guy, most of the people on that side are normal, decent folk. In any case, the “Western” bit morphs into something else, when it becomes clear the planet may be holding some ancient secrets of its own, and some of them may be waking up.
Like the previous books, it’s a fun ride and a great read. As typical here, the end portion is one long rollercoaster ride which wraps up nicely but leaves the big picture open for sequels. It answers some questions regarding the Miller/protomolecule storyline, but also opens up a few new ones. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and maybe not quite as coherent as a story as the previous ones, but still very much worth the read for people who have liked the series so far.