The Churn

James S. A. Corey
The Churn Cover

The Churn


After reading the latest book in the Expanse series, Nemesis Games, I gained a better perception of the characters of Alex Kamal and Amos Burton, who had until that moment seemed somewhat nebulous and even interchangeable: Amos' figure was the one that gained a sharper focus after the last installment, so I was more than happy to discover that in this story the spotlight is on him and his past, something that has been shown only in tantalizing glimpses until now.

That past was spent on an Earth whose description reminds me of post-apocalyptic backgrounds: the city of Baltimore, and probably every other city on the planet, is divided between those who work for their wages, and possess a drive and energies for trying to create a better future for themselves, and those who live on basic -- the government-funded welfare program that leaves them with a lot of free time on their hands, and here the maxim about the dangers stemming from idleness seems to apply most dramatically. On this future Earth, if you don't work you give up some rights, like the freedom of having children, which does not stop people from birthing "unlicensed" offspring, individuals who are not in the system and therefore must survive on the fringes of society, where criminality is the way of life. Periodically, the authorities raid the warrens where these virtual ghosts live, and the aftermath of one such operation -- aptly termed "the churn" -- can bring great changes both to individuals and to criminal organizations.

This is what happens to a younger Amos and -- without delving into details that might spoil the effect of this well-crafted and involving story -- what contributes to shape him into the person we will meet later as part of the Rocinante's crew, a man who can decide to kill you or lend a helping hand with the same kind of detached equanimity that makes him so powerfully scary, the man who is described as possessing "an amiable smile, an unpleasant past, and a talent for cheerful violence". Despite that, he also comes across as an individual possessed of deep loyalty toward his crew-mates, and one who is also capable of offering second chances to old enemies, as he shows with Clarissa Mao in "Nemesis Games": here, in this glimpse on his troubled past, we learn how he came to be the person he is, what shaped the future Amos and the reasons for his journey down memory lane in the last published book of the series.

The fascinating insights offered by this story and the equally intriguing twist at the end of it make this a must read for all Expanse aficionados: what I find most compelling here is the "special content" quality of the information provided, and the fact that the authors chose to provide it as an aside, without weighing the main story-line with too much detail. It's a way of fleshing out this universe and at the same time keeping the interest in it alive that I find most satisfying.