on 1 June 2011
It is entirely justifiable to call Leviathan Wakes one of the most hotly anticipated titles of the year. Touted by George R.R. Martin as a `kickass space opera` James S.A. Corey's debut is a return to the old-school form of space opera, but souped up to satisfy modern tastes. Delivering on Martin's promise of a kickass story, Corey makes every effort to mix together a crime plot with that of a tense struggle and an armed interplanetary conflict.This sprawling start to the aptly named `The Expanse' is a triumph of science fiction entertainment and fine writing.
Corey sets out both a creative view of humanity's future and a starkly realistic one. In his vision, humanity - at sub-light speeds - has extended its reach to the far ends of our solar system, establishing itself on Mars, the moons of the outer gas giants and on many of the larger components of the Asteroid Belt. Though not at all a hard SF novel, Leviathan Wakes does try to get some of its facts right, and its depiction of interplanetary travel and life outside of the homey confines of Earth reflect that, even if they are, in the end, purely fictional imaginings.
Brilliantly, Corey makes use of certain of these scientific `restrictions' as catalysts for conflict. So the `belters,' humans that were born and have lived in the Asteroid Belt have developed differently physically from their Terran and Martian cousins because of the low-gravity environment in which they subsist. These differences, much like our issues of race today, are sources of friction between the different factions of the solar system and eventually lead to greater conflict in the novel.
With this setting as a backdrop, Corey forges a twisted mystery that seems to weave in and out of the main characters' lives and connect every event. Leviathan Wakes, in its early stages, bears resemblance to pulpy, noir crime fiction, but does not let itself be bogged down in that atmosphere. Indeed, the immediate setting is always changing due to the breakneck pace at which the story unfolds, transitioning from one intriguing setting to the next, giving us the welcome opportunity to visit a good deal of the future of our solar system under Corey's care.
But at the heart of Leviathan Wakes are its characters. The telling of the story alternates between the view points of its two main characters, Miller and Holden. The former offers the perspective of the tired, post-prime detective who retains enough experience and street-smarts to still be of value, while the later represents the hopeful idealists, the do-gooders, those whose actions are dictated by higher morals whether they want to or not, and who is trapped in circumstances with no options that satisfy his moral restrictions. The contrast between these two characters is evident and, I assume, very much intentional as the tensions and moral differences play a big part in the book's conflicts.
Supporting these two colorful characters is an interesting bunch of secondary characters. Most notable are the members of Holden's crew aboard the Rocinante, who bring a brilliant dynamic to the novel as well as some well-placed comic relief and, at times, serve as emotional anchors for their Captain. The chemistry between all of the novel's characters - be that because of their tendency to be archetypical or not - is fabulous and a pure joy to read.
Leviathan Wakes is an exorbitant collection of all the elements that make old-school space operas so great. The Daniel Abraham - Ty Franck duo hiding behind the James S. A. Corey monicker succeed in bringing to life boisterous characters in a thriving vision of our future. The worst that can be said about the book is that the constant movement and the speed at which events unfold, though mostly outrageously fun, can sometimes be tiring and leads to some of the plot resolutions feeling a bit rushed and too convenient. That's it. Apart from that, Leviathan Wakes is a surefire way of getting your quality science fiction fill. Needless to say, this first book in `The Expanse' is highly recommended. The second novel, Caliban's War, appears to already be nearly completed so should be expected for next year.
Several centuries in the future, mankind has colonised the planets and asteroids of the solar system but war between Earth and Mars threatens. Those working in the outer asteroid belt - the Belters - have little time for the Inners and as time has gone by their bodies have evolved, lengthened, lightened to demonstrate their difference from those who live on the inner planets. Life is difficult, crowded, suspicious.
Leviathan Wakes tells the story of two men - Miller, a Belter detective on Ceres and Holden, the Commanding Officer from Earth on a water-hauler that mines ice-comets to replenish the tanks of Ceres and colonies in the belt. When Holden answers a distress signal from a derelict ship he discovers a mystery that others will pursue. His own vessel is torn apart and when Holden blames Martian technology tensions soar. But even when Holden and his surviving crew are handed over to Martian authorities, he is still pursued by violence and deadly force. On Ceres Detective Miller has been given a problem to solve, one that is secondary to his normal role supporting the status quo on this wild west frontier in the belt. He is told to find Julie Mao, a girl with a powerful background who comes to obsess Holden's thoughts until nothing is as important as finding Julie.
Leviathan Wakes is a spectacular novel. The first in a space opera series it soars almost immediately and lays the solar system open to our exploration. From the horrific and compelling prologue, I was hooked. Much of the success is due, I think, to the division of the narrative into chapters that alternate been Holden and Miller. These are two very different men. One is still optimistic, with honour, wanting to do the right thing, to avenge his friends who are killed so pointlessly and instantly, while helping those who are caught in the blight that threatens the solar system.
Miller is jaded, divorced and cynical. This is no normal police force he works for - it is a security service paid for by the protection racket that just happens to be in power. But it's clear that something is happening to unsettle these gangs and as tensions build between Earth and Mars and the Belters, and clues drop that Julie's family may know something about it, his hunt for the missing girl takes him away from Ceres. Miller comes to believe that Julie may be the key to understanding the malevolent force that is threatening the system, even transforming it.
There is no let up in pace here. The book shuttles backwards and forwards between the two stories, drawing them ever closer. Action scenes are interspersed with passages of glorious description, bringing this entire world to life, whether aboard a spaceship, an asteroid or a planet. Characters are richly created, whether they manage to survive a chapter or not. Holden is always likeable whereas Miller is disturbing and dark. All the time, in the background, is Julie and the threat that shadows the solar system. Something truly evil, unknowable at best, is at work here and for much of the novel it's difficult to tell whether it's manmade or alien. But its impact on life is mindbendingly horrible and there are moments in this book that I will never forget. Even apart from the adventure, there is the fascinating social interplay that goes on between Earthers, Martians and Belters. The stars are out of reach - our solar system is crowded.
Leviathan Wakes grips from the beginning and it never lets up until the end and even then, while finishing in a satisfying manner, it makes you want to lurch onward to the next books in the series. I bought Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate as I read this. The mix of adventure, mystery, great characters and superb worldbuilding is irresistible. Above all else, Leviathan Wakes is a good story very well told and I'm delighted to have embarked on this series and long may it continue.
on 13 September 2012
Death, destruction, politics, space ships, villans, getaways and, yes, zombies. This space opera is one fast paced mash-up of every other sci-fi situation you can think of and its all done really, really well. Taken from two characters viewpoints throughout, these slowly come together as the plot moves around the massive settlements of the asteroid belt, where humnaity makes its home.
Laviathan Wakes starts out as Alien/Event Horizon, when a missing ship sends out a distress call that is not what it seems. This is then mixed with the politics of Red Mars and quickly spun into the battles of Pandoras Box. Having escaped the mayhem, our heroes move on to a dose of Resident Evil and then..... well I won't go on more as I might spoil the story. Sufficient to say this is a great, slightly retro, page turner and really enjoyable
on 31 August 2012
Leviathan Wakes has a sci-fi scenario with many of the bells and whistles associated with the genre, but at heart it's simply a story of the human condition that happens to be set in the future. It deals with issues of ethnic division (through differences in physical development due to the presence or otherwise of gravity), the familiar prejudices created between the haves and have-nots, the power of Governments and corporations in the control of knowledge, and the associated sci-fi staple of the responsible use of alien technology. All of these are reflections of our current global problems and help to create a universe that the reader can relate to fairly quickly.
This leaves a lot of room for the characters and narrative, which is what keeps this book moving along nicely and engages you in the storytelling. There are main characters rather than heroes, all of whom have the requisite number of foibles and failings to keep you interested, unsure where they're going, and wanting to know more.
While trying to avoid spoilers the main thrust of the story is: naughty corporation stirs enmity between opposing forces to hide their dabbling in alien technology that gets away from them, and it then falls to the two main characters to overcome their failings to try and stop the end of human life.
The gripping part of the writing is the clever use of doubt. There is never a clear and unequivocal decision, from the minor to the massive. It doesn't even try to hide behind doing what is 'right'. It makes the characters unpredictable and perhaps more difficult to warm to, but ultimately reflects the reality of people in a situation where life and death cannot be measured by doing the right thing.
This is gritty rather than grand, scuffed instead of shiny. The pacing, characterisation, and narrative carry it well and cover a slight lack of depth in the story. It just made four stars for me, which means I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series but it doesn't have to be right this instant.
on 10 October 2015
It's fine. A decent enough enjoyable story. But I'm not convinced it's as good a space opera as some people seem to think.
The writing is passable but the author may get better as the series continues, and the story is interesting.
If you want real page turning space opera stories, go read the series by Peter F. Hamilton.
Here's an idea for an SF novel, why not take bits from other books, lock them up on an asteroid, and let a mutating alien space virus loose on them to see what happens.
Okay, first in is Joss Whedon's Firefly. A ragtag band of misfits led by a hard but moral captain. The parallels are so close that I found myself seeing some of the characters from Firefly before their origins fully clicked with me. The loyal female second in command, the uncompromising hard man, the slightly softer technical genius.
Next up we get a noir detective. Failed marriage, check. Alcohol problem, check. Poor relationship with the boss, check. Obsession with a case he's told to drop, check.
Then we can throw in a bit of body horror to spice things up, and clichés from every naval story from Hornblower, through Patrick O'Brien to David Weber's Hornblower in space, Honor Harrington novels. Finally, let's add a 24 carat Bond villain who wants for nothing other than a white cat.
So, one thing Leviathan Wakes isn't, is highly original.
It is set in a universe where humankind has populated the solar system, and there are two major powers, Earth and Mars, with the Outer Planets Alliance seeking to break free, not least from the tax burden placed on them by their more powerful neighbours. Again, we are looking at the familiar theme of the Napoleonic Wars and American War of Independence transposed into space.
An act of piracy seemingly perpetrated by one of the major powers is the catalyst for a war which threatens the whole of human society. Of course all is not what it seems, as shadowy interests seek to manipulate the war to enable them to take control of an ancient and terrifying alien technology.
While this is all pretty derivative, it is reasonably enjoyable as a plot which gradually builds up speed delivers sufficient twists and turns and action set pieces to keep the reader's interest. It's a bit like an action movie. If you go along for the ride, and let yourself get carried along, it's all good fun. Just don't stop and think about it for too long, otherwise you'll start seeing the plot holes.
Even if you do decide to go with the flow, the bad physics is pretty annoying. Apparently vacuum is an insulation against radiation, but even worse, many SF novels cock their noses at Einstein in their attempts to operate on a galactic scale, but this is one which decides to ignore Newton. A major plot point at the climax of the book is entirely dependent on breaking the link between force and acceleration. Not good.
So, as a piece of brain dead pulp fiction, this is a perfectly acceptable operatic space fantasy, but don't expect anything more.
on 30 April 2016
I started reading this after a recommendation from one Vinny Caravella of Giantbomb.com fame. Leviathan Wakes is a fantastic sci-fi book that explores the burgeoning relationship between Earth, Mars and the colonies in between (i.e. the 'belters').
We look at the story from two perspectives: Holden, a commanding officer with his motley crew and Miller, a noir-inspired detective who's trying to solve a missing person's case. Their course will, of course, inevitably collide to reveal a conspiracy that's greater than the sum of its parts.
The Corey duo (it's a pseudonym adopted by 2 separate authors who worked together) deftly weaves together an intriguing tale with a writing style that simply flows smoothly from one page to the next.
There is an interesting allegory here about discrimination by class, race, and culture; coupled with some good ol' fashioned power lust. If you enjoy a grand space opera, than this is definitely worth your time. I was reading this book during my free time in my long stretches of night shifts and it really helps with making time fly by. Time to buy the second book!
on 5 June 2015
The caption on the book suggests that this is the literary equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster. This does the novel a great disservice. It is certainly exciting, but it has proper characters and a coherent plot, instead of just bouncing from explosion to explosion like a Transformers film. Read it and you will have plenty to occupy your mind. It is a good long story and will take a while to get through unless you're a very fast reader, but I never felt that it had been padded. I shall get others in the series later.
on 2 August 2012
Leviathan Wakes is the first science fiction novel I have ever read. Well, that's probably not strictly true, since exposure to early sci-fi at school and university make that claim untrue, but the sentiment is there: Leviathan Wakes is the first science fiction novel I've read, that sits comfortably in the category of modern SFF.
What a choice to start with.
There were minor issues with the first book of the Expanse Series, but they were just that; small details or niggles that related more to my personal preference than the overall effect of the book. Any book will have small niggles and no book is perfect, especially the first in a series: the writer is setting up the world and the plot, both at the same time, and it takes time. Skilled writers will do both simultaneously, and Corey managed that.
I'll say now that I was impressed.
I have never read "space opera" before, and honestly, I'm uncertain as to what general consensus takes it to mean. I've taken to thinking of it as follows: Space Opera is to science fiction, what Epic Fantasy is to fantasy. Not a hard and fast rule, but it works for me and my purposes so far. In every way, Leviathan Wakes was a new adventure for me.
It aims to fill the gap between humanity's colonisation of the solar system, and our flight beyond into the deeper unknown of space. It does a good job of imagining what humanity will begin to evolve into, given the chance to develop without constant gravity. A lot of science fiction chooses to have Earth or near-Earth level gravity on its space stations, colonies and colonised domes, so this was a bit of a change. I suspect it helped set the mood better for the tensions between Earthers and Belters, creating more noticeable differences between the two sides, but it worked well despite feeling a little engineered.
The narrative skips between two characters, and these POVs alternate throughout the novel.
Jim Holden, native of Earth and XO of the Canterbury--an ice hauler en route from Saturn's rings--is a general good guy who has had a lot of free time on the Cant to think about his mistakes and his dishonourable discharge. He believes in doing the `right thing' and sometimes doesn't think things through as much as a situation requires. Essentially he is a very well-meaning, honest idealist. So when he becomes the catalyst for a shooting war between Mars and the OPA, and everyone in the solar system wants a piece of him, with few friends and many enemies, Holden has to navigate the virtual battlefield well enough to keep himself and his crew out of the firing line.
Detective Miller hails from the colonised Ceres. Working a private security contract and still nursing feelings leftover from a divorce, Miller isn't at his best. He's getting old, jaded and is long-past too tired. Living on the Belt lends a certain perspective; when even your air is shipped in from a place difficult to locate on a map, it's hard to be the idealist that Holden is. But when Miller is given an under-the-table assignment, a favour for the shareholders, things begin to change. The target is Juliette Andromeda Mao, and he's to find the rich girl runaway and bring her back to mummy and daddy. It's your average kidnap job. Nothing to speak of...until finding Julie appears to lead him straight to the centre of a brewing war, in the middle of which, Jim Holden seems to be standing.
When these two men cross paths, the whole galaxy threatens to go to hell.
The plotting is tight and every detail of the story is well-executed. Both character arcs are seamlessly interwoven and neither outshines the other. Holden and Miller are constantly on equal footing and maintain a constant status quo. They are both very different men, and therefore stories, but impossibly compelling and fantastically individual.
The best part of Leviathan Wakes is the way the characters are written. I have scarcely read a book with such strong, real, normal people presented as characters. Not a single character, main, sub or minor, is a stock type and nothing is forced, staged or feels like a plot device. The people in Leviathan Wakes are just that; people.
It makes for astoundingly enjoyable reading. Everyone has a personality all their own and it's something often lacking to a point in much SFF. Sure, not all characters are stiff and wooden and not all are cliché, but Corey goes the extra mile in Leviathan Wakes and really raises the bar on his to craft believable, real, and compelling characters. It's all so damn natural.
And it's why I bumped my initial rating of four stars, up to a full-rounded five. Leviathan Wakes reads like watching a film or TV series: the characters are so real that they move off the page and the writing that accompanies them is stylish, sophisticated and gives them the perfect stage upon which to shine.
It's a gritty(ish), dark and biting little insight into the darker side of humanity, that holds the worst analysis of the human condition in one hand, measured against the best of it in the other. It's a classy, smart and grown-up read that is utterly engrossing and worryingly accurate.
Definitely a winner.
on 18 June 2016
Oh my days THAT WAS GOOOOOD.
I can't even say I really came out of that book particularly LIKING anyone in particular. It was just a damn good story, about people. People don't act like they "should" in every situation. People are flawed. Even good people. I really enjoyed the development of Miller as a character, though I wouldn't say I liked him. The battle scenes were brilliant, I'm not usually one for battle scenes, but something gripped me about these ones. When they were in dialogue, it felt like Star Trek - but better! The story itself went all over the place, and it had me hooked. Admittedly, coming out of reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to reading this, the start felt a little dry, and I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy it. But into it I got, and thoroughly enjoyed it I did.
If you like pretty sci-fi, and you don't like gritty, don't read it! Because pretty it aint. Space Vomit Zombies. Nuff said.
Lost a half star, as there were points where the story dragged just a tiny bit more that I would have liked. But definitely worth a read!