Mitchel Broussard's Reviews > Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
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's review
Nov 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi

There's no real way to avoid this so I'm just going to start with it: this is Game of Thrones in space. It's also not at all, but mostly it is. The story of a small, seemingly unimportant action causing dominoes to fall and lead to an unimaginably big war with all manner of people picking sides and a supernatural entity waiting in the wings that no one wants to talk about. But the detailed minutiae, the raw world-building, the head-spinning political maneuvers and plot twists that make A Song of Ice and Fire feel like you're dining on fine steak when you read it, just aren't here. If ASOIAF is filet mignon, then Leviathan Wakes is a Big Mac. Blunt, obvious, absolutely delicious in the moment but with the tiniest guilt leftover once you're done with it. And it's absolutely worth the carbs.

Telling the story (in the always binge-worthy alternating of character perspective every chapter) of, at its grandest intentions, an intergalactic war sparked by the good intentions of XO Jim Holden. And, at its most intimate level, the human interactions and reactions (mostly between Holden and Detective Miller) to that war. It's a very classic set-up: Holden is young and naive and thinks that humanity as a whole will do the right thing given the chance (remember how I said he accidentally incites a war? I wonder what the author's saying about humanity there...).

Miller, unsurprisingly, is older, battle-worn, a no-bullshit cop on the hunt for a missing girl who has mysterious ties to some very nasty forces that may be behind the entire conflict. When they talk it sounds like those angels and devils that popped up on characters' shoulders in old cartoons. But Corey finds the humor in it, injecting unexpected actions into Holden and Miller's characters and really tearing apart their subconscious on a chapter-by-chapter basis. There's a small issue in the second half of the book (once their story lines converge) where chapters bleed into one another and begin shedding light on the fact that their voices and internal monologues sound fairly similar. It's awkward and took me out of the book a few times, having to quickly remind myself who I was reading from, but it definitely didn't ruin it for me.

And the reason it didn't is because I love the bluntness of this book. There's something absolutely liberating about reading the word "Zombie" in a book that has zombies that makes me want to pump my fist in the air. I mean really, did the world prior to the apocalypse in The Walking Dead never have zombie fiction? These people should be screaming "HOLY SHIT ZOMBIES", instead they're spending time coming up with clever ways around the word, thinking it adds an air of class to the proceedings and makes it less of a genre show. Shit drives me crazy.

There are Vomit Zombies in Leviathan Wakes. Five sentences after these Vomit Zombies are introduced, the main character - and not even the brash, young main character, the old, grizzled, everything is black-and-white main character, I'm talking about - literally says the words "Vomit Zombies." It's so completely ridiculous, but works so well in building the world these people live in. Sometimes the dialogue takes a hit for the team in its stilted, trying-to-be-clever department, but for every cringe-worthy moment where Holden flirts with Naomi, there's a gem like this:

"Way I see it, there's three ways this can go," Miller said. "One, we find your ship still in dock, get the meds we need, and maybe we live. Two, we try to get to the ship, and along the way we run into a bunch of mafia thugs. Die gloriously in a hail of bullets. Three, we sit here and leak out of our eyes and assholes."

There aren't any subtleties here, Corey gives the dialogue that seems like it should be Holden's to Miller (and then vice versa), and it shows shades of gray you didn't realize were there before, creating characters that actually feel like live human beings that have more than one defining personality trait. It's also just a fucking hilarious line.

And speaking of Holden and Miller, although it's not mined nearly enough, there are actual sweet and touching moments between the two that easily catch you off guard after reading lines about ass-holes leaking. Their competing world-views (Holden trying to save everyone and Miller thinking it's okay if the few die so the many can live) actually help surprise not only the reader in the moment of genuine sweetness in the middle of the book, but Holden and Miller, too. It's probably the most subtle the book ever gets, actually.

The big problem here, running back to that Game of Thrones comparison, is that there's no personification to the sides of the war. We know Earth and Mars are fighting and the Belt is on its own side and that there are strings being pulled behind the scenes by a shadowy organization, but even the closest thing the book comes to having a villain is cut short before we get real answers. Earth and Mars just hate each other and after Holden slips up in the novel's opening chapters, claiming his ship was destroyed by a Martian stealth ship, Earth has a reason to go after them. But since these are planets at war, and not the devious Lannisters and courageous Starks, it's hard to personify their motivations. I'm not saying it's Corey's fault not including characters that would have done that, because it would have probably come off as simplified, blanketing the motivations of one person onto a planet, it's just one of those things you have to take in stride with the grandness of the story that's being told. And I just found it hard to get invested in the faceless war.

Which is unfortunate, given that the far more interesting aspect of the novel is seen much less: the alien species that shot a missile of goop at Earth when the planet was a mass of protoplasmic marshes, missed, and caused the other plot in the book to take place. (Aka Vomit Zombies) I'm assuming this is explored further in the abundant sequels, which I eagerly await reading.

And that's the other thing about Leviathan Wakes, it definitely feels like the first book in a series. A lot of time is built up introducing Holden and Miller (They don't even meet until nearly 300 pages into the book), giving reason to the interplanetary war that seems a bit too neatly tied up by the end, and with a cliffhanger regarding the alien goop that is all-too cliffhanger-y. I'm also questioning the big, bold quotes on the back of these books that claim it to be a hollywood blockbuster in book form. There's action, sure, but this is definitely a book where characters use words to get out of a tough spot more often than bullets. Which is all fine and good, it just makes the resulting finale a bit of a whimper more than a bang.

All the same, I will read the crap out of this series, and all it's spin-off novellas, until Corey (who's actually two guys, one of which is George RR Martin's assistant, go figure) is sick and tired of writing about Vomit Zombies. I will now lead you with a list of my favorite quotes from the book, further proof of it's ingenious stupidity.

"Pleasure in killing hadn't come until after Julie, and it wasn't really pleasure as much as the brief cessation of pain."

"I've seen you looking at me. I know exactly what those looks mean, because I spent four years on the other side of them. But I only got your attention when I was the only female on board, and that's not good enough for me." YOU GO, GIRL.

"All his smiles looked like he was hearing a good joke at a funeral."

"There's a right thing to do," Holden said.
"You don't have a right thing, friend," Miller said. "You've got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong."

"'Vomit Zombies,' Miller said."


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Reading Progress

November 11, 2011 – Shelved as: sci-fi
November 11, 2011 – Shelved
April 14, 2014 – Started Reading
April 27, 2014 –
page 143
May 24, 2014 –
page 258
June 3, 2014 –
page 401
71.48% "Ah, bromances."
June 16, 2014 – Finished Reading

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