Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse #1)

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

SPOILERS

Potentially unknown fact – James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for the author duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank. The former has written a number of books already (I recommend reading the Long Price Quartet), and having read his work before is why I picked this book up. I hadn’t read any sci-fi in a long time, not since Embassytown, which was just as clever and intelligent as China Melville’s books usually are, and equally as difficult and obtuse. This book was a good ol’ fashioned space opera (heavy on the space) and it was really good example of the genre. I’m impressed mostly because I managed to stick with a 500+ page science fiction novel filled with terminology and actions I wasn’t familiar with and limited character development and even grow to like and appreciate it a good deal.

Holden and Miller are the only two characters given any attention with regards to character development, and in this case, the development mostly revolved around these two be polar opposites. Holden, an Earther, is the upstanding, virtuous one who always tries to do the right thing, expose criminals, spread the truth, and other similar things. His actions tend to lead to a lot of bad consequences due to a severe lack of foresight. Miller, a Belter, is the noir-style cop who’s been exposed to more seediness and corruption than is good for him and who’s sense of right and wrong is as gray as you can get. Out of these two, Miller is the better drawn of the two, as he’s based off the more recognizable and popular archetype of a private dick. Also, he has a whole lot more at stake, since the overarching conflict of the book involves subjugating the Belt in order to show them whose boss. Although he gets involved in the plot through happenstance, Miller forms an attachment to Julie, the girl he’s assigned to find, and his attachment reflects his downward spiral into destruction in which Julie remains the the one person he feels any sort of connection to. Holden, on the other hand, blends more into the background. There isn’t much to distinguish him as a meaningful protagonist beyond that he happens to be caught in situations outside of his control and receives information that makes him an asset. His primary motivation in all this is mostly revenge and the need to do “what’s right”. I could have done with some more defining characteristics. His sections weren’t a chore to read, but he was definitely less colorful compared to Miller.

Other than those two, characters weren’t given much to work with, though I did appreciate that Amos possessed a very Jayne Cobb-like personality. Even though it’s clear the authors tried to include a balanced cast in terms of gender, race, and background, the book still felt distinctly white, male-centric. I can’t speak as to how meaningful or appropriate the combination of different cultures and languages in the Belt worked (I appreciated the effort to include them all, I personally can’t say if it was done in a good way). Also, I really wished for more prominent female characters besides Julie and Naomi. Julie’s dead after the prologue and we only get to know and see her through Miller’s eyes. Naomi’s main role is to be XO to Holden. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing if the authors hadn’t decided to have Holden start thinking he was in love with her and having it conveniently turn out she was interested in sleeping with him all along, so they start having sex and probably in the next book or so they’re going to say they love each other. Really? Really? Seriously guys, you can do a hell of a lot better than that!

What I really liked was the liminal period in time in which the authors chose to set the book. Humanity has begun its outward reach to the stars, but so far they’ve only made it to Uranus. Earth and Mars are the main superpowers with the asteroids and stations that comprise the Belt serving simultaneously as the frontier and fodder for the two planets in their power games. The Belt is especially intriguing because it’s become a huge melting pot for so many Earth people and cultures. Combined with a space-led life in which the very water, air, and gravity is provided by Earth and Mars, permanently altered body structures, and the emergence of a new slang quickly evolving into its own language, there is a very distinct Belter identity and sense of commonality emerging among the inhabitants. Although the overarching conflict is eventually revealed to be about the protogen, the many divides between and within the Belters, Mars, and Earth are utilized to exacerbate the situation such that it’s obvious that war is in the future. I’m keen on how these relationships will change and grow in the sequels, and I’m especially interested in the future of the Belters.

The protogen was pretty cool. It was a reasonably typical genre kind of alien molecule that took over human bodies and caused them to mutate into new, scary life forms. James S. A. Corey made the protogen worth paying attention to by having the evil guys commit mass genocide of an entire asteroid, turning it into a giant laboratory to see what the protogen would do and creating a new, asteroid-size life form in the process. I wasn’t entirely sold on how the protogen got into the galaxy; the current explanation is that billions of years ago, aliens threw it into space with the intention of having it land on Earth, except it got stuck somewhere around Saturn. Right now, I’m waiting for someone to come with a better explanation and with more evidence to back it up.

When I read sci-fi, there’s always some risk that I will not understand what’s happening or what characters are doing at certain points in the story due to them using and discussing science and technology I don’t really understand. There are a number of those instances in which that was the case. Thankfully, the book stays largely focused on Holden, Miller, and the plot. This book definitely is not one in which a background in science or an interest in space and physics is necessary for enjoying the story, although if you have it, it wouldn’t hurt.

Overall, I am glad I picked up Leviathan Wakes. It’s an exciting, action-packed story that covers a lot of ground and describes a pretty epic conflict. It’s space opera with some science that I nevertheless enjoyed reading due to its action/noir elements. Once we get some better-drawn characters (MORE FEMALES PLEASE), this series is good to go. I most likely will be picking up the next couple of books as they come out.

Disclosure – library

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One thought on “Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse #1)

  1. Pingback: 2012 Hugo Award Nominees « Lost in a Good Book

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