Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

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Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)
by James S.A. Corey
Science Fiction
561 pages
Published June 2011, by Orbit


 

In the future, humanity has colonized many of the worlds beyond Earth– Mars, the moon, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the asteroid belt. Of all the colonies, those of the asteroid belt (home of the Belters, people who have never looked up at a sky) are regarded with tolerance at best. The many worlds of the solar system rely upon each other for their survival, but human nature has a way of finding whatever difference it can latch onto to allow fear and intolerance to lead it down the path to war. When Jim Holden, executive officer of an ice freighter stumbles across a deadly secret, he has to stay ahead of those willing to kill to keep it quiet. Meanwhile, Detective Miller of the asteroid Ceres is tasked with finding one missing woman in a system of billions of people. When their investigations cross paths, Holden and Miller discover that these secrets run far deeper and could be more catastrophic than they ever thought possible.

With Leviathan Wakes, the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank– known as James S.A. Corey– open a brilliant science fiction series that builds on the genre’s history and adds a thought-provoking story to an already thoughtful canon.  Without belaboring the point, Leviathan Wakes touches on familiar themes of love, friendship, and family while adding in ideas at the core of the science fiction genre such as transhumanism and how colonizing space could change our notions of humanity. Add in more than a dash of accurate and thoughtfully-explained science, and the result is a gripping space opera that remembers what is at the core of every good story: flawed human beings who are trying to do what they think is right.

Though humans are at the center of the story, science plays a key role in every part of it. Terraforming, g-forces, the role the Coriolis effect would have on a spinning station, and even the changes a microgravity environment could have on generations of humans growing up in it, and more all are woven into the narrative in such a way that the reader learns the necessary physics without feeling like they’ve been subjected to a lecture on Newtonian physics. Science is even wound into the politics of the story: Earth and Mars have all the wealth and martial power, but even they have to be careful with how far they push the Belters. The planets might have rockets and nuclear weapons, but the Belters simply need a space rock of sufficient size and a ship to drag it close enough to a planet to let gravity take its course and wipe out vast swaths of the population. It’s not quite Mutually Assured Destruction, but it ensures that the delicate political balance remains in place so billions of people can live their lives in relative peace.

“A hundred and fifty years before, when the parochial disagreements between Earth and Mars had been on the verge of war, the Belt had been a far horizon of tremendous mineral wealth beyond viable economic reach, and the outer planets had been beyond even the most unrealistic corporate dream. Then Solomon Epstein had built his little modified fusion drive, popped it on the back of his three-man yacht, and turned it on. With a good scope, you could still see his ship going at a marginal percentage of the speed of light, heading out into the big empty. The best, longest funeral in the history of mankind. Fortunately, he’d left the plans on his home computer. The Epstein Drive hadn’t given humanity the stars, but it had delivered the planets.”
Though science fiction is often derided as a shallow genre, it has a long history of memorable and thought-provoking stories. Authors of new works ignore that history at their own peril.  It might be tempting to try to tell a new story without looking at what is already out there, but doing so can (and often does) result in a story that has been done before– and usually better. Thanks to the many references Corey makes to their predecessors’ writing, it is easy to see how they built a story upon the groundwork laid by such greats as Asimov and Frank Herbert, and it is clear that they are not afraid to push onward into new territory. With Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey begins an exciting series that takes us into a futuristic world that doesn’t neglect the very human aspects of life and love.

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