Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (AKA Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham)
Published : Orbit, 2011
Series : Book 1 of the Expanse
Awards Nominated : Locus SF and Hugo Awards

The Book :

“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.”

Leviathan Wake is my last review of this year’s Hugo novel nominees, so I’ll have a summary post up about this year’s Hugos soon.  I’ve never read anything by Ty Franck before (I believe this is his first novel), but I’ve enjoyed Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet, in addition to some of his shorter work published in Asimov’s. I’d been looking forward to reading their collaboration, and I think they work well together.  Apparently, Abraham wrote from Miller’s point of view, Franck wrote from Holden’s point of view, and then they edited each other’s work.  The result is a very smooth and coherent novel that felt as though it were written by a single author.  From what I hear, this is planned as a six novel series.  The second novel, Caliban’s War, is already out.   

My Thoughts :

When it comes to excitement and adventure, Leviathan Wakes definitely did not disappoint. Leviathan Wakes was mostly a solar-system-bound space opera, but it also contained elements of noir and horror. Frequent humor helped to lighten the mood in darker places, but the characters still remained appreciative of the seriousness of their predicaments.  The story was full of explosions, disasters, large-scale space operations, and horrifying surprises.  It didn’t take long for the story to get into high gear, and the stakes were fatally high for both the heroes and the human race as a whole. In general, the story seemed like the novel equivalent of a well-crafted sci-fi adventure film.  It featured a team of heroes caught up in world-shatteringly significant events, and it pitted them against some unmistakably evil villains.  There was also a romantic subplot and a few regrettable action film cliché moments.  All of that added up to a highly exciting and entertaining story, which kept me eagerly turning the pages.

The two heroes of the story were Holden and Miller, whose viewpoint chapters alternated. Holden was an idealist who believed that all information should be freely broadcasted, and people tended to treat him as something of a holy fool.  While I can respect Holden’s standing by his convictions, I felt that he needed to take more responsibility for the destruction his ‘free information’ could cause.  Miller was contrasted with Holden by his belief that information should be guarded, and released with care in order to bring about a desired result.  I liked the idea of the heroes, but their characterization seemed a little too deliberately extreme to be realistic, especially near the beginning.  All the same, it was interesting to see how these very different characters interacted with one another, and how they developed throughout the story.

Holden and Miller were strengthened as characters by their supporting casts.  With the inclusion of Holden’s surviving crew, Miller’s colleagues, Martian soldiers, people who worked at research stations, and a rebellious ‘belter’ organization, the universe of Leviathan Wakes felt real and highly populated.  Of course, few of these supporting characters were especially developed, but most of them still felt distinct in personality and voice.  To me, the most interesting supporting characters were the members of Holden’s crew.  They each had memorable personalities and meaningful roles in the unfolding story.  Even the love interest character was interesting in her own right, and I hope she plays a large role in the story to come.

In addition to an exciting story and memorable characters, the “Expanse” universe seemed very well designed.  Though the setting of Leviathan Wakes was limited to our solar system, the novel showed that this was more than enough space to create a compelling and complex universe.  The descriptions of the physical spaces and of the different levels of social, political, and economic structure were sufficient to make the solar system feel like a real place where people lived and worked. I enjoyed the examination of the physical and cultural differences between the ‘belter’ and ‘inner planet’ citizens, and of the difficult relationship between them.  I loved this fictional future setting, and I feel like it has a lot of potential for future novels.

My Rating : 4.5/5

Leviathan Wakes is a highly engaging, exciting space opera set solely within our current solar system.  While most of the story is a space adventure, there are also some noir and horror elements.  To me, Leviathan Wakes seemed to novels what especially well-crafted action movies are to films.   It was very exciting, it had humorous moments to break up the darker segments, it had characters that were  painted in extremes, and it had occasional moments of cliché.  Behind the action of Leviathan Wakes were characters that were easy to care about, and our colonized solar system made for a very interesting setting. In short, Leviathan Wakes was thoroughly entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series! 

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