David's Reviews > Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
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Jan 05, 12

bookshelves: sciencefiction
Read from July 26 to August 03, 2011

Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in The Expanse, a science-fiction series penned by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). Evenly split between the points-of-view of Joe Miller (an aging, has-been police detective on the asteroid Ceres) and Jim Holden (a handsome and “righteous” former navy officer now serving as XO of an ice-mining vessel), Leviathan Wakes is a riveting book, the sort of adrenaline-charged, politically savvy, intensely human tale that I love to stumble across.

While constraining themselves by the realities of actual physics (there are no force fields or FTL drives in Leviathan Wakes: a few hundred years from now, it takes months to get from place to place in our very claustrophobic, very dangerous solar system), the authors play with the sort of horror tropes that made 80s sci-fi films like Alien and The Thing so viscerally terrifying. The genre-bending goes further, however: though set against a lightly sketched socio-political backdrop (Mars and Earth are nominally allied; the Asteroid Belt is a sort of quasi-independent group of territories; the those living near the outer planets despise those further “down the well), the book is largely a futuristic noir, a hard-boiled “cherchez-la-femme” mystery unraveling itself at the dawn of humanity’s steps beyond the strictures of its sun.

As the surviving crew of the Canterbury struggle to discover who destroyed their ship and why, the broken Miller (feeling freshly emerged from the work of Hammett or Ellroy) sticks to his investigation into the disappearance of the daughter of a wealthy corporate magnate despite every obstacle thrown in his path. Their searches draw them together, and insanity (literally) ensues. Holden and Miller (whose off-kilter bromance is one of the finest written out there) alternatively complement and grate against each other, and the act that pulls their entwined stories apart sets the stage for some really powerful, quality explorations of ethics.

The twist at the final chapters makes Miller’s ultimately the most satisfying strand of the book; since there are two more volumes planned for The Expanse, I am looking forward to seeing how the outlines of system politics are more fully developed and how Holden and his crew continue to grapple with the implications of the frightening discoveries in Leviathan Wakes.

Strengths:
Incredible dialogue. Gritty, real. This is how people actually talk to each other.

Very realistic technology and living spaces. The careful attention paid to how our biology will respond to living in space is also great.

Well thought-out political divisions among humans. Though they were not always as culturally diverse as I might like, their political differences were clear and expertly established.

Exciting battle scenes. These ships kill each other. There are no magical forcefields to protect them from enormous, Teflon-covered balls of metal flung at great velocities.

Two engaging protagonists.

Viscerally disconcerting antagonistic forces.


Nitpicks (and really, these aren't significant enough to detract from one's enjoyment of the book):

Two-dimensional supporting characters. They're cool, but they're not rounded.

Relatively static protagonists (Holden remains righteous; Miller is broken and flawed to the end).

Weak multiculturalism: there is a tendency to marry a first name of one ethnicity with the last name of another as a inefficient shorthand for actual cultural evolution. Everyone feels pretty much American (with a few exceptions). Part of this might be due to the limitations of two white male points of view making up the entire book. We don't get to peer into other groups through a member's eyes (and I'm sorry, though Miller is a Belter, he feels pretty much like a present-day American).

Silly Belter argot: I’m sorry, but there is also a precise science of linguistics that describes how languages in close proximity develop into pidgins and then creoles. Sticking entire phrases in several languages in a sentence is not even remotely realistic as an actual hybrid language. One syntactic system will tend to dominate, and one phonological system will warp the words from the different tongues into nearly unrecognizable form.

Speaking of languages, “Carne Por la Machina” isn’t good Spanish, Portuguese, or any other Romance language I’m familiar with. If it were Spanish, then it would be Carne para la Máquina (meat for the machine). Even if the writers corrected the spelling of *machina, you would have Carne Por la Máquina, which literally means “meat through the machine” or “meat by the machine.” Perhaps they can correct this in future editions. Unless it’s from some hybrid Romance language. That would be cool. But it should be explained, even in a throwaway comment.



Overall, I highly recommend this book to fans of engaging, adventurous science fiction with a realistic, political flair. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 4.5 on a scale of 5.
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