“The abyss above him shone with unflickering stars. One of the dots of light was Earth. He didn’t know which one.”
― James S.A. Corey,
“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.”
― James S.A. Corey,
To prepare for the December 6th release of Babylon’s Ashes, Book 6 of The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey, we’re jumping back to the novel that started it all, 2011’s Leviathan Wakes.
I’m going to start by gushing about this book for a minute.
Science Fiction was, in many ways my first love. I grew up watching Star Wars, and tuning in weekly to new episodes of Deep Space 9 and Voyager as a kid. Nothing quite captures my imagination the same as a far flung story set on distant (and not so distant) worlds. Sadly, as time went on I found myself drifting further and further away from the genre, at least in the literary form. I found that there weren’t many stories that really grabbed me the way that the books, movies and television of my childhood did. What I was looking for was a huge story, with massive consequences, but that also focused on a set of characters I could care about, one that didn’t get too bogged down in explaining the science of every piece of technology. What I wanted was a novel that made me feel the same way I felt while playing Mass Effect, or watching Babylon 5. When I was unable to find that my reading attentions turned primarily to Fantasy, where I could find those stories.
Still, I felt like I’d turned my back on something important.
Until, 3 years ago, when my older brother recommended I pick up a novel called Leviathan Wakes. I was hesitant at first, worried it couldn’t live up to the lofty standard I seem to have set. I was completely mistaken; the book blew me away. For the first time in years I devoured a Science Fiction book with passion, and once I hit the final 150 pages I literally couldn’t put it down. This review is based on my fourth reading of the novel; that’s how much I enjoy this story.
Okay, I’m done fanboying now, I’ll get down to business.
Leviathan Wakes is set at an indeterminate time in the future, when mankind has spread out and colonized much of our Solar System, but no further. There are deep fissures between the 3 main segments of human culture, Earthers, Martians and Belters, those who live in the distant asteroid belt and on the moons of the gas giants. We follow 2 primary characters, Joe Miller, an over the hill Belter Cop based on Ceres who is tasked with finding the heiress a massive corporation while events in the system spiral out of control, and James Holden, the Executive Officer of an Ice Freighter who finds himself thrust unwillingly into the centre of events as political and corporate powers vie for control.
What follows is a story that is fast paced, thought provoking, and a little bit terrifying. Leviathan Wakes reads like a Space Opera, with a focus on plot and character rather than the science involved. Still, it keeps its feet firmly in the pool of scientific accuracy. Artificial Gravity doesn’t exist, nor does Faster-than-light travel. Characters, and indeed readers feel the claustrophobia of tight quarters in space stations and ships, and the acceleration of a ship at high burn can be fatal if not kept in check. It’s this blend of scientific realism with plot and character focus that separates Leviathan Wakes from the majority of the science fiction literature that I have read.
Since the release of Leviathan Wakes 5 years ago, 4 sequel novels have been published by James S.A. Corey (which is in fact a pen-name for the author duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), with a 6th novel on the way next month, and an incredible television show has been release on SyFy, with the first season covering the first half of this novel. If Dune was Science Fiction’s answer to Lord of the Rings, then The Expanse is the reply to A Song of Ice and Fire. With a new books coming, and the second season of the television show on the way, there has never been a better time to pick up Leviathan Wakes.
What I Liked
If I didn’t make it clear in my introduction I love this book. It feels like a breath of fresh air in the genre, and really reads like a cinematic blockbuster Science Fiction movie in print form. The action is easy to picture and exciting, and the novel also delivers a lot of solid character interactions in the midst of the mayhem.
The characters of Miller and Holden are both engaging and exciting to read, primarily because they couldn’t be more different from each other. Holden is described numerous times as “righteous”, and that attitude of nobility colours his every action. Conversely, Miller is a loose cannon, literally and figuratively. Those differences of character become particularly intriguing when the characters come face to face in the second half of the novel.
Though this is in many ways a “realistic” science fiction story, the plot of this novel is pure grand Space Opera excellence. I don’t want to go into details because discovering whats really going on is such a fun experience. I will go so far as to say that on my first read-through once the true nature of the story is revealed, I literally got goosebumps, and devoured the remainder of the novel at a pace that likely isn’t entirely healthy.
What I Didn't Like
The only minor complaint that I can level at this book is that James S.A. Corey fails to give readers a truly accurate sense of the passage of time. We are made aware early on that interplanetary travel is slow and consumes weeks of time, but those time periods are almost always glossed over. As a result, when, towards the end of the novel, Miller remarks that nearly a year has passed since events a the beginning I always find myself doing a double take. If it weren’t for that line one could reasonably assume only a month or two have passed.
Should I Read it?
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes!!!!!
In the 5 years since its release Leviathan Wakes has, in my opinion, become a seminal work in Science Fiction literature, alongside Dune, and Asimov’s Foundation. Just as those novels set the standard for what good Science Fiction can and should be in their times, The Expanse is the gold standard for today’s readers and writers.
So, this is my recommendation: Run, and I mean run, to your nearest bookstore or library, and get this book. Then, set aside your weekend to experience the joy of reading it. Make sure you have a cup of delicious coffee, and strap yourself into your crash couch, because this book will take you on a ride you won’t soon forget.
- Plot 90%
- Writing Quality 90%
- Pacing 85%
- Emotional Connection 85%
- Wildcard 100%
- Overall Rating 90%