Monday, January 7, 2019

The Expanse Profiles: James Holden

At left is some fan art by artist dana-redde on DeviantArt. It depicts what they think is Captain James Holden and his OPA (Outer Planetary Alliance) girlfriend, Naomi Nagata. I know I'm going to talk about Naomi on Wednesday, but I might as well mention that she's frequently described as being tall and kind of stretched out...a result of having lived her whole life in almost null gravity. At most, she's been exposed to spin gravity on stations like Tycho, Ceres, and Eros. As far as real gravity wells are concerned, she's probably only been exposed to Luna Station, Ganymede Station, and the resort built on Titan.

Anyway, we first get to know Captain James Holden--who is the primary protagonist of all seven books thus far--in the first few chapters of Leviathan Wakes (the first book in The Expanse series). As depicted in this illustration at right, the artist kind of gets the look of James Holden. I didn't quite picture him so small and cutesy, but his one consistent character vice in all of the novels is that he's constantly looking for a cup of coffee. As far as depictions go, the television series produced by the SyFy channel did a pretty decent job of casting an actor that I thought (retroactively applied since I watched the t.v. series first) did a swell job of filling out the role of Holden. A picture of him is included at left.

The actor that plays him is Steven Straight. In the book, he comes from Montana, and he is the only child to eight parents (it sounds a lot like a polygamist Mormon family, but without all of the kids that are normally associated with that). However, they never say that his parents are Mormon. Perhaps he's an only child because the Earth's population is already at 30 billion and no one wants to have kids.

At the time The Expanse takes place, the solar system is pretty much a colonized and functioning place. There are a billion people living on Mars and millions going back and forth to different stations throughout the outer planets. There are so many people, in fact, that stations like Eros have a population of 15 million or so.

In being the central pivot figure of The Expanse, James Holden is involved with everything. As the second officer on The Canterbury, which is a doomed ship that he sees attacked and destroyed relatively early in Leviathan Wakes, he follows his moral compass (which is very paladin-like) to report to everyone what he sees with the most transparency as possible. It ends up starting the biggest war mankind has ever seen, involving the Belters, Earth, and Mars (because of the attack on this one water hauler). He manages to come out of it smelling like a rose by commandeering (along with his small crew) a Mars gunnery ship that he renames The Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse. It's a fitting symbolism because Captain Holden is forever tilting at "windmills" just like Don Quixote throughout this entire series.

Naturally, his fate gets entwined with a Detective Miller who is looking for the missing daughter of a mega-rich sociopathic scientist by the name of Jules Pierre Mao. Unbeknownst to anyone, the missing daughter, Juliette Mao, is the last survivor of a doomed crew that got infected by an alien virus called the protomolecule (because it was being studied by a bunch of psychopathic scientists who discovered the two billion year old strain in some ice around Saturn). I get the impression that Julie's crew was infected intentionally, and Juliette Mao (unaware of the danger her infection brings) flees to Eros station where Holden and Miller find her in the bathroom of her suite basically disintegrating into blackened tentacles as the protomolecule consumes her. From there, the whole of Eros station of 15 million are doomed and Holden and Miller barely make it off alive. They are both exposed to lethal radiation, but because of fantastic strides in medicine, Holden just has to take some cancer meds to keep the radiation from creating fatal cancers in his body.

One of the things that I think is brilliant with regard to the plotting of these novels (and story at large) is how every detail is never too small not to factor into a bigger plot point. Those cancer meds, which Holden swallows every day, end up factoring into the story of Cibola Burn, the fourth novel in the series. In that particular plot following the opening of the ring gates which lead to 1300 plus solar systems with habitable worlds, the first settled world called Ilus, comes to be very challenging for a bunch of colonists. There's this algae that floats in the clouds above the planet's surface, and when it rains, the algae can infect bodies of saline water (which it loves to multiply inside because that's its perfect environment). The colonists on Ilus get their eyeballs infected with this stuff which makes them all go blind...all except for Holden, who is on cancer meds that keep things from propogating out of control. So these cancer medications ends up being the cure that they can use to solve one of the many problems that the colonists encounter on their first visit to a truly alien world. It's brilliant writing, and a great example of having high stakes for characters to create tension.

Additionally, Holden's continued association with the protomolecule and what it creates extends way beyond the first book, Leviathan Wakes. After Miller dies by being on Eros as it crashes into Venus (all fifteen million people on board are dead by this point and the asteroid is being piloted by Julie Mao's consciousness whom Miller is in love with), Holden sees a projection of Miller created by a remnant of the protomolecule left on The Rocinante. This projection communicates with him and advises him on events happening both with the creation of the Ring Gates and on the events that transpire on Ilus. Holden eventually gets rid of that remnant of the protomolecule on The Rocinante, which ends his visions of Miller, but he is kind of forever linked with it. In the latest of the published books entitled, Persepolis Rising, Holden instantly recognizes the Laconian technology for being grown from the stolen protomolecule sample taken from Tycho station 30 years earlier, and he also recognizes the thing that appears on the Laconian battle cruiser The Typhoon as having originated from the same place as whatever killed the makers of the protomolecule two billion years ago.

And that's what's really chilling. The makers of the protomolecule were such an advanced civilization, that they colonized 1300 worlds and created wormholes that could bridge space itself. Yet Holden saw a vision that (at the end of their civilization), the makers of the protomolecule encountered something that they tried to defeat by destroying entire star systems. And it didn't work. Whatever it was, wiped them out completely. The first time the Laconian Battle Cruiser employs its magnetic weapon (created from protomolecule technology) in Earth space, an artifact from the destroyers of the protomolecule civilization appears and causes everyone in the entire Earth system to lose three minutes of time simultaneously.   

Having read nearly all the published material available for The Expanse, I can honestly say that Captain Holden ended up being a fine protagonist through which the story kind of unfolds just by living his life. Those are the best kinds of stories, are they not? 

Coming up on Wednesday: Profile of Naomi Nagata.

1 comment:

  1. Yes they are.
    Sounds like the author wove all of the details well in the series.