A review by Nalini Haynes
Persepolis Rising is the 7th book in The Expanse novel series that is entwined with 6 ‘short fictions’ located as prequels and in the interstices. The novels continue to follow James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante just like the TV series. However, a little like George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the series has expanded to encompass new characters’ points of view as appropriate. Unlike GRRM’s series, The Expanse has refrained from going overboard to the point of confusion, while, like GRRM’s series, it has become a soapie or — for the indignant hordes out there — a SPACE OPERA.
In previous instalments, a faction of the Mars space navy defected and fled Sol system through one of the gates to another system, Laconia, led by tactician Admiral Duarte. Now they’re returning to force humanity to form an empire under Duarte, whose genetic manipulation is intended to make him an eternal emperor.
Laconia’s culture is dichotomous: informality in private discussions is encouraged but step out of line and officers are used in horrific genetic manipulation experiments that would violate the Nuremberg Code. Effectively, a death sentence is the consequence for falling asleep on duty and not applying a death sentence for such minor misdemeanours.
The public face of Laconian culture is much like that of Nazi Germany except the uniforms are blue not grey. High Consul Duarte has decreed all humans are Laconian citizens, therefore terrorists are merely criminals and should be treated as such. No reprisals are enforced for those who surrender without bloodshed.
You can imagine how well Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex, Draper and Claire on the Rocinante take this new regime. They’re on Medina space station in the nexus between the gates when the Laconians take the station. Cue the resistance.
Drummer, an old friend, is now president of the Transport Union (Belters are running the inter-planetary transport union and Medina); she stands up to the Laconians at great cost. Chrisjen Avasarala rolls into one of Drummer’s meetings, older than ever but swearing as usual, trying to help Drummer save humanity from itself yet again.
Cue splodeys and shit happening.
The crew on the Rocinante have aged and not particularly well; they’re all feeling aches and pains. Comments are made about Holden’s exposure to radiation early in the series but it doesn’t seem to have affected a ‘normative’ lifestyle. However, Clarissa Mao — often called ‘Claire’ — is suffering, is disabled, because of self-inflicted illegal surgical implants installed to aid her murderous rampage many years and a few books ago. She’s gone from being the madwoman who must be contained for everyone’s safety to part of the family who everyone cares for while they wait for her inevitable death to relieve them from disabled disruption. Her treatments and story arc fit Paul Darke’s (1998) normative genre and Mitchell and Snyder’s narrative prosthesis (Mitchell & Snyder, 2000; Snyder & Mitchell, 2006).
The two authors comprising Corey use Laconia to stand for Nazi Germany in their imagery, their excessive use of the world ‘pale’ when use of actual colours or other terminology would be better. For example, Major Overstreet is described thus: ‘His shaved head was the palest skin Singh had ever seen, and his eyes were an icy blue. Among Martians, that combination was fairly exotic’ and yet there are a number of ‘pale’ members of the Laconian military and scientists. Furthermore, the authors use ‘pale’ elsewhere as in ‘Stockholm syndrome’s pale roots’. I argue that, linking this with the other negative associations of their use of pale and their character with albinism (white hair and blind in a previous book) who betrayed the crew of the Rocinante, this unnecessarily associates paleness with negativity. They could have substituted ‘insidious’ for ‘pale’. However, Alexander “Santa-llites” Payne argues that
I don’t think that applies to young plant roots as these are literally white. It’s a non human metaphor meant specifically to draw upon the gradual power of plant growth to crack structures (Payne, 2017).
Furthermore, there are several uses of the word ‘pale’ concerning the crew of the Rocinante in distressing circumstances, which is noting a biological effect of stress.
Overall, however, there is a tendency for Corey to link paleness to the Laconians and their ships whether it be a substitution for an actual colour choice or an intended link to Aryan (Nazi) imagery. This is a cause for concern in an otherwise incredibly enlightened series that features religious and gender/sexual diversity as well as a multitude of racial types that are not important to characters except when attributes of Earther, Martian and Belter apply. My concern is that authors who intentionally embrace the (almost) complete range of humanity still exclude or ‘other’ the disabled and the hypopigmented (those of us with albinism).
With the current Trumped-up resurgence of Nazi-ism and white supremacists calling for the murder, expatriation or return to slavery for people of colour, it is important that series like this both normalise excellent inter-racial relationships and emphasise the risks of allowing the extreme right to resume power once more. Overall, I’ve enjoyed The Expanse series, I like that our heroes are aging as am I, and I appreciate the social commentary implicit in the narrative. The television series is one of the best in its genre, too.
I recommend reading Persepolis Rising but, due to backstories and familiarity with characters, I recommend reading the earlier books first and in order.
Note: this book ends in a pause in the conflict but without resolving the situation that has several hanging threads.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format: trade paperback, 549 pages; also available in hardcover and ebook
Publisher: Orbit (Hachette)
Darke, P. (1998). Understanding cinematic representations of disability. The disability reader: Social science perspectives, 181-197.
Mitchell, D. T., & Snyder, S. L. (2000). Narrative prosthesis: Disability and the dependencies of discourse: University of Michigan Press.
Payne, A. S.-l. (2017). tweet. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/myrrlyn/status/938280372214808577
Snyder, S. L., & Mitchell, D. T. (2006). Cultural locations of disability: University of Chicago Press.