27 January, 2023

Gimbling in the Wabe – Giving Us the Stars

I think it’s fairly obvious that I love reading.  More often than not, I read books  that have me Navigating by the starsdelighting in the quality of the writing or the cleverness of the story.   But sometimes I come across a passage that truly stands out, where I stop and say to myself, “Whoa”.

Such a wonderful moment happened last night; I was so affected that I went back and re-read the passage, to look at it with a slightly more critical eye.  Not only did I still love it but I think I loved it even more.  So for this week’s “Gimbing in the Wabe”, I felt compelled to share this incredible passage with you, in the hope that you will find it just as inspiring as I did.

The passage comes from Abaddon’s Gate, a science fiction novel by James S. A. Corey.  Abaddon’s Gate is the third in a proposed nine volume series dubbed “The Expanse”; the earlier works are Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War.  (Those who regularly peruse this site will recognize the titles – I’ve written about them before, and named them in our LitStack Staff Recommendation feature.)

First, a bit of background.  Generations into the future, Mars has been colonized and the asteroid region between Mars and Jupiter, called simply “the Belt”, has developed its own political entity known as the Outer Planets Alliance, or OPA.  The three regions – Earth, Mars and the Belt – interact economically, but function autonomously and sometimes contentiously.    The Expanse relates what happens to the three regions and their people when an alien “protovirus” appears and changes the course of civilization.

In this passage, Anna, a religious appointee in the Earth delegation charged with exploring an anomaly  developed from the protovirus, finds herself wandering within the OPA’s massive warship, Behemoth.  The Behemoth was originally a “generation ship” being built in the Belt for the Church of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons – who had, in a grand leap of faith, decided to strike out on their own and establish an independent, separate colony, even if it meant taking generations to reach their destination.  But the Behemoth was suddenly commandeered by the OPA and hastily retooled as a warship when a mutation of the protovirus moved to establish a Ring outside the orbit of Uranus.

Anna finds herself on this ship, meant for one cause and pressed into quite another, after a harrowing experience that finds her shaken yet, in a strange way, renewed in her faith.  Here, she muses on human nature in a way that is both brilliant and inspiring.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a passage from James S. A. Corey’s Abaddon’s Gate.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Anna knew quite a few members of the Latter-day Saints church.  They agreed with the Methodists on a few minor things like not drinking alcohol, which gave them a sense of solidarity at interfaith conventions.  They disagreed on some important things, like the nature of God and His plan for the universe, which didn’t seem to matter as much as Anna would have thought.  They tended to be happy, family-oriented, and unassuming.

Standing in the belly of the Behemoth, Anna would never have guessed they would build something like the massive generation ship.  It was so big, so extravagant.  It was like a rebellious shout at the emptiness of space.  The universe is too big for our ship to move through it in a reasonable time?  Fine, we’ll stuff all the bits of the universe we need inside of our ship and then go at our own pace.  The inner walls of the rotation drum curved up in the distance, Coriolis effect masquerading as mass, metal ribbing and plates pretending to be substrate, just waiting for soil and plants and farm animals.  Through the center of the drum, half a kilometer over Anna’s head, a narrow thread of bright yellow light shone down on them all.  The sun, stretched into a line in the sky.  The entire idea of it was arrogant and defiant and grandiose.

Anna loved it.

As she walked across a wide empty plain of steel that should have been covered in topsoil and crops, she thought that this audaciousness was exactly what humanity had lost somewhere in the last couple of centuries.  When ancient maritime explorers had climbed into their creaking wooden ships and tried to find ways to cross the great oceans of Earth, had their voyage been any less dangerous than the one the Mormons had been planning to attempt?  The end point any less mysterious?  But in both cases, they’d been driven to find out what was on the other side of the long trip.  Driven by a need to see shores no one else had ever seen before.  Show a human a closed door, and no matter how many open doors she finds, she’ll be haunted by what might be behind it.

A few people liked to paint this drive as a weakness.  A failing of the species.  Humanity as the virus.  The creature that never stops filling up its available living space.  Hector seemed to be moving over to that view, based on their last conversation.  But Anna rejected that idea.  If humanity were capable of being satisfied, then they’d all still be living in trees and eating bugs out of one another’s fur.  Anna had walked on a moon of Jupiter.  She’d looked up through a dome-covered sky at the great red spot, close enough to see the swirls and eddies of a storm larger than her home world.  She’d tasted water thawed from ice as old as the solar system itself.  And it was that human dissatisfaction, that human audacity, that had put her there.

Looking at the tiny world spinning around her, she knew one day it would give them the stars as well.