The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of the Expanse (2011)
Written by: James S.A. Corey
Genre: Short Story/Science Fiction
Published by: Orbit
Rating: Good Read
After reading and loving James S.A. Corey’s debut Leviathan Wakes (LJ || WP), I knew I wanted to read this short story before getting my hands on Caliban’s War. I finally found a good opportunity to do that, so I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it in one sitting.
The Butcher of Anderson Station is a prequel of sorts, and features a character well-known from Leviathan Wakes, Colonel Fred Johnson. It shows us how he came to be in the position he is in the book. It shows us how he earned the nickname The Butcher of Anderson Station. Yes, this is covered in Leviathan Wakes itself, but it is cool to see it in narrative, to see Fred in the moment and in the aftermath. It fleshes out his character in a way we didn’t get before, and I really liked the back-and-forth format (which answered my question of how Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck wrote this: one wrote the flashback, the other present day). It does end rather abruptly, but that also makes sense: the reader, if they’ve already read Leviathan Wakes, knows what happens next. And if the reader hasn’t read it yet, well, the Kindle sample is kind enough to provide an excerpt for the book at the end, to tease you into reading more and learning more about the universe.
Here are some of my favorite moments of the story. As with Leviathan Wakes, the descriptions were right on. Here’s the opening:
When Fred was a kid back on Earth, maybe five or six years old, he’d seen a weed growing in the darkness of his uncle’s cellar. The plant had been pale and thin but twice as tall as the ones out in the side yard, deformed by reaching for the sunlight. The man behind the bar looked just like that: too tall, too pale, too hungry for something he’d never had and never would. Belters were all like that.
And the descriptions of military action were also described quite well. I never had trouble following along:
Green dots moved through the corridors marked on his display. Sometimes new red dots appeared when a marine’s HUD detected return fire and marked the individual as a threat. The red dots never lasted long. Every now and then a green dot shifted to yellow. A soldier down, their armored suits detecting the injuries or death that rendered them combat ineffective.
Combat ineffective. Such a nice euphemism for one of his kids bleeding out on a piece-of-shit station at the ass end of the Belt. Sixty percent expected casualties. Four green dots for every six yellow, and each one of them his.
He watched the assault play out like a high-tech game, moving his pieces, reacting to threats with new orders, keeping score by tracking how many green dots stayed on the screen.
It also helps that this story helps you understand every decision Fred makes, and it does so in the most forward, blunt way possible. As such, we understand every regret Fred has later as he learns the truth about the way the attack on the station went down, which creates a unique sympathy for the character, because you can agree with his actions and not second-guess them, but still feel the regret with him just the same once he gets the bigger picture, the picture he was never supposed to get.
I love, too, how unforgiving the solar system is, and how Corey does everything possible to make sure the reader doesn’t forget that. It infuses the world-building and the story with a certain kind of believability, and when I finish reading, I want to return to the world right away and find out what else I can discover.
I suppose it’s a good thing I have Caliban’s War waiting for me on my Kindle, eh?