Sep 1, 2011

Book Review - Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse Book 1)by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes is the first book in what I assume will be the Expanse Trilogy.  It’s written under the pseudonym of James S.A. Corey – the writers responsible are Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank. I presume this literary skulduggery, thinly veiled though it is, has something to do with marketing.

The Story
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.

Is it Kickass? Is it Space Opera?
George R.R. Martin has labelled Leviathan Wakes ‘Kickass Space Opera’.  I don’t know that it hits either of those descriptors right on the head.  I’ll take on Space Opera first.  The world building has it registering with me as a plausible future.  The attention to detail in regards to the harshness of space, the limits of human expansion being within our solar system, the Mormons building a generation ship. It’s not grand enough to be Opera, not yet anyway.

Is it Kick Ass? For something to register as ‘Kickass’ to me it either has to hook into me emotionally, or have unbelievable levels of cool or both. Leviathan Wakes is a good exciting read, don’t get me wrong, I was rocketed through its 560 odd pages, eagerly turning but It didn’t hit me where it hurts and like I have said it’s setting is plausible, realistic even.

What I liked?
Characterisation and world building were brilliant, within 50 pages I could see, hear, taste and feel what life was like out in the solar system.  Deft little touches like the hand gestures used by Belters(occupants of the asteroid belt) to add inflection to conversation - a by-product of a culture that spends most of its time in vacuum suits where facial gestures are useless.

I liked the mix of futuristic hard-boiled fiction and  fugitives on the run from evil empires in the “galaxy’s fastest ship”.  Leviathan Wakes  feels  a bit like Rick Deckard meets Han Solo, crossed with Event Horizon plus Dead Space and it’s all good.

Gender Issues?
This story is really about two men, Miller and Holden.  The only significant women are Naomi -a competent XO / love interest, Captain Shaddid  -Miller’s superior and Juliette who strikes me as not much more than a plot device.  So the women, though developed as strong and independent are only supporting characters.

It’s a very entertaining read and there's enough resolution of the story in this volume for the reader to not feel cheated and by the same token enough dangling threads to make the second volume enticing.  For me the highlight of the book was characters and world building, a little too gritty and restricted to be Space Opera but a worthwhile investment of 10 hours of my time.

This book was a review copy provided by Orbit.

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