The Churn by James S A Corey
I’m about to catch up with The Expanse novels so warmed myself up with another one of the novellas. This one is easily the most grounded and least ‘sci-fi’ so far. I didn’t like it quite as much as the Martian set Gods of Risk, but The Churn is nonetheless a pretty interesting insight into one of the most interesting but dangerous characters in the series; Amos Burton.
The Churn is a prequel, taking place in Baltimore prior to Burton’s first trip into space and, eventually, to the Canterbury. At this point, Burton is a gang leader with a ruthless reputation. The story primarily follows Timmy, an enforcer for Burton who at the beginning of the story is pulled up for misinterpreting an order and killing someone he was meant to be extorting. Baltimore frequently goes through what the locals call the churn, a police crackdown on crime in the city, so the private contractors Star Helix are bought in to overturn the tables on the gang, throwing Timmy into danger.
Although this is a story set in the future, The Churn’s Baltimore doesn’t feel a million miles away from where we are now. It captures rather nicely a divide between the rich and poor; the science fiction excitement available for some doesn’t amount to much for the penniless down in Baltimore. There’s a greater sense of authorial intrusion in The Churn, with a tone which feels markedly different to anything else I’ve read so far in The Expanse. It’s a neat little experiment. Obviously the main draw of this is to get a feel for the origin of Amos, always my favourite of the Rocinante crew. It’s interesting and well-handled and is easily our closest examination yet of a character who’s often been something of a cipher.
The Churn doesn’t necessarily feel ‘essential’ in any way, but it’s a good read and one which fans of Amos should definitely give a go.