The first of (currently) four books in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes has been getting a lot of press recently. Since it’s release in 2011, and the fact that its sequels have been annually punctual, it’s been praised for its gritty, modernized take on the space opera genre. Aside from several friends who’ve touted its shelf-worth, Leviathan Wakes has recently been discussed on io9’s Book Club, and more impressively The Expanse series has been ordered for a 10 episode television series on SyFy! So naturally, after all the hype, I’ve decided it was time to take a plunge into the expanse.
Leviathan Wakes is a hard SciFi novel that takes place during the 23rd century, almost exclusively in space. At this point in the future, humanity is split between earth, the Mars colony, and the smaller (but more focused upon) asteroid belt. Racism, nationality, and hatred boil into the equation, causing the colonies to become divided, often blaming each other for mishaps and mistakes without proper evidence. This melting pot of hate, along with several uhhh… mistakes(?) lead to some serious interplanetary issues.
The story follows the two (often intertwining) perspectives of James Holden and Joe Miller. “Miller,” as he is almost exclusively titled, is a detective who receives a case in which he must find Julie Mao, who’s gone missing somewhere in space. James Holden and his team find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time rather often, getting thrown around the galaxy. Miller’s increasing fascination and effort to find Julie, along with Holden’s general bad luck are the perfect recipe for uncovering a mysterious conspiracy that involves an ancient extraterrestrial virus.
This series is often toted as being Game of Thrones in space. And in some ways it is. Not in the sense that everyone you know and love gets killed off, but because of the overarching evil that looms behind the scenes. It’s interesting how quickly the enemy of my enemy becomes a friend near the end of this book. It was actually a refreshing turn of events that allowed the story to take the shape it needed to eventually come together for me as a reader.
James S. A. Corey is actually the pen name of a two-writer team up, comprised of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and is probably why they are capable of pushing out a good sized novel each year. Their use of prose is simple, neat and effective, but still airs on the creative side without dragging itself out too much. As is usually the case with science fiction, Leviathan Wakes doesn’t bog itself down with much word count padding, and often paraphrases the events in between scenes (unlike most fantasy I’ve read lately). Their usage of expletives was entirely wasted on my end, initially annoying me due to the sheer amount and repetition of their occurrence and I was even more disappointed by the lack of creativity therein, but they quickly eased off it for the most part. On the other hand, the clipped language of the belters was extremely well-done – morphing together French, German, Spanish, English and other languages to make an interesting take on the future of language. To get the full feel of this aspect of the writing, I recommend listening to the audiobook.
The science fiction elements incorporated made a lot of sense. The writers deliberated much of their time making sure that the universe of the Expanse made sense, and was reasonably believable by our current grasp of physics. It brings life to the atmosphere they created. Going certain speeds in zero-g will take its toll on the human body, so certain precautions must be taken to sustain life. Another such example is found in how humans adapt over time if born on locations other than earth – those humans that were born on the “belt” for example are much taller and lankier. It also makes sense that humans would make space ports or docks on small moons or large asteroids such as Ganymede or Eros. Some locations become extremely essential to the plot, and this does a great job of throwing you around the solar system a bit.
The one thing I notably disliked was that you tend to like the characters, but you were never given reason to love them. You sympathize for them, but rarely empathize with them. And that is nearly as essential of an element in a novel for me as the quality of its storyline (which by the way, is very good). And that hampered my enjoyment in the long run, unfortunately.
Overall however, the book stands on its own. Although merely part of a much grander story, Leviathan Wakes is a strong entry in a wonderfully realized future. I do plan on reading the rest of the series, and look forward to it, but I’m in no rush to get to the next. I am looking forward to seeing how this will be adapted for television. It seems as though every channel wants its own GoT type of series nowadays.