Review: Leviathan Wakes

Posted: June 22, 2011 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: James S.A. Corey, Science Fiction

No, this isn’t LEVIATHAN WEPT, the short story collection from Daniel Abraham. This is LEVIATHAN WAKES, the collective effort of Mr. Abraham and his buddy, Ty Franck. Why such similar titles from the same author? Who knows. They aren’t related though. This one is new. It’s special. It has a fancy cover. Whoa, cool. But is it good? Of course it’s good. You gotta know I’m gonna love it. This guy just plain delivers.

LEVIATHAN WAKES (Amazon) is the first in a planned series of five books titled The Expanse, and was a book that I expected some good Ju-ju from. If you’ll remember, I’m not such a big fan of Science Fiction in general. I do have my favorites though, and James S. A. Correy (Abraham and Franck’s pseudonym) is now one of them. Add him to your list, people. Yeah.

The main story revolves around two characters: Detective Miller and Jim Holden. Holden is the XO on a space freighter that moves massive icebergs from the rings of Saturn to deep space communities built on spun-up (gravity-bearing) asteroids. Right up front, they receive a distress signal from another ship, the Scopuli, moored to a nearby asteroid. They stop to help, and stuff just starts getting shot up and blown up all over the place. It’s chaos and firepower and nukes and lotsa dead people, and only very rarely does it let up the pace and give you a chance to breathe until the bitter end.

Detective Miller works for a Belter security agency and has just been given a chump partner that grew up Earth-side. He works to keep the peace, find the criminals, and pretty much everything you’d expect from this kind of working-class schmoe. Then he gets assigned to a new case, a bogus one. It’s a snatch and grab, with Mommy and Daddy Warbucks footing the bill to have Detective Miller bring their baby home. But everything isn’t quite as it seems, and soon the trail for the girl leads Miller to the Scopuli.

And you know that has to be good for us. Just not so much for him.

There are three big pulls in this book that totally made it rock. The first, of course, was the characters. Miller and Holden are just two great viewpoints.

Holden’s your average Joe, trying to make a buck and save the universe one iceberg at a time. He’s a bit idealistic but true to his convictions. He’s honest. Someone that’s easy to root for and hard to watch get hurt, without feeling it yourself.

Miller is good at what he does. He gets in, gets out, and does his job. Click, clack, spidat! Along the way he gets blindsided though, and quickly becomes one of those characters that you just can’t take your eyes off of. Every time you see him, he’s sunken into that downward spiral just a bit further, and it leaves you wondering just how long it’ll be until he self-destructs.

The second thing LEVIATHAN WAKES has going for it is the action. There’s loads of it and it starts up right off the bat. Ships getting blown up. People dying left and right. Military warships threatening whole communities and local thugs beating on the innocent, alike. Everyone wants a piece, and it seems like there’s never a lack for something going on during this ride.

If you're looking for some Space Opera Noir SF goodness, then read LEVIATHAN WAKES, people. It's the beginning of one of the best SF series out there.

The third piece of awesomeness was the story. Not only has this pair done their homework on the plot, but the world-building was awesome. The tension between those that have been born in space and those that have lived in gravity wells their entire lives was perfect. They don’t trust each other, “they don’t belong together”, and this shows in every aspect of the character’s interactions. It isn’t long before Mars and Earth and the Belters are all pointing their guns at one another, screaming threats and seeing who’s going to fire the first shot.

The series itself is supposed to be a space opera, but this one feels more in line with a dark, noir, detective novel. Plus explosions. So much of the story was built around the mystery of the Scopuli, and of the missing girl, and how all this violence and chaos jived. We’re finding things out right up until the very end, and it was serious-awesome how it all ended up fitting together.

I did have a few issues with it. Some of the space battles felt a little too fast for me. The speed factor I have in my head for space-action is something along the lines of 2001/2010 fast, but mostly this one felt more like that old-school Asteroids game after I figured out you could move the ship around. Timing was also a bit of an annoyance, as I had a hard time keeping track of how much time was passing as the story moved on. By the end, I found out that almost a year had passed since the beginning, and that surprised me a little.

The last problem was probably the biggest one for me, and that was the secondary characters around Holden. They just didn’t hold water. Those around Miller were awesome. Nuanced, real, responsive. Most of those around Holden almost felt more like name-holders instead of people. They kept dying off and it really didn’t matter all that much to me, and seemingly only in slight manner to Holden. The one exception to this was when the two story lines merged. It was then that I saw those secondary characters surrounding Holden from Miller’s perspective, and suddenly they popped. Immediately, they were there, and not just names any more. Afterward, I went back and was actually quite surprised at how little there was in those sections, dealing with the faceless secondary characters, that made everything work for me. Abraham just knows how to do character.

The ending on this one was absolutely awesome. It closed the story we were being told, leaving plenty open from which the next one can jump. From what I’ve heard, that next book, CALIBAN’S WAR, has already been turned into the editor for feedback. How cool is that? It’ll be in my greedy little hands less than a year from now. Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

If you’re looking for some Space Opera Noir SF goodness, then read this one, people. It’s sure to please. It certainly did good things for me.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Moderate amount
  • Violence: Fairly high level, occasional detail gets pretty gory
  • Sex: A few references and some ubiquitous tension

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