Review of ‘Leviathan Wakes’ Book One of the Expanse Series
By James S.A. Corey
I started watching the television show ‘The Expanse’ on Amazon Prime about six months ago, and I dug it. So I grabbed the first book in the series, ‘Leviathan Wakes.’ I dug it, too. Here’s why.
‘The Expanse’ as a series has been described by reviewers many times over as a ‘Game of Thrones’ in space. I can see why they say it. The two have much in common mechanically. Both have third person limited POVs. Both play out on an epic scale. Both have dramatic/awesome battle scenes, political intrigue, and major character demise.
As I said, ‘Leviathan Wakes’ has all those. Where it differs mostly from ‘Game of Thrones’ is in its limited number of POVs. Where GOT is told from the POV of about 80 characters, LW is told from just two: James Holden and Joe Miller.
James Holden is an ex-naval officer who’s now the XO of an ice mining ship that runs a regular route hauling ice from Saturn’s rings to an asteroid name Ceres Station. Holden’s a hero directly out of central casting. He’s handsome. Resourceful. Brave. He has the annoying habit of always telling the truth despite the dire consequences sure to follow in its wake.
Holden also becomes the de-facto leader of a ragtag group of technicians set adrift physically in space and metaphorically amidst a maelstrom of political intrigue. His story is very much the story of him and his crew and how they struggle to survive despite mounting odds.
Joe Miller’s story is a story of solitude. I liken it to ‘The Maltese Falcon’ in space. It’s a noirish foray into the underbelly of Ceres Station, an asteroid that’s populated and part of a confederation of asteroids collectively known as ‘The Belt.’ Miller’s story begins with him being assigned a missing persons case that no one wants any part of. In true noir fashion, Miller gets the hell beaten out of him, physically, mentally, and spiritually before ending up about a million miles from where he started. Maybe more. Probably more.
The world building is one of my favorite aspects of LW. It takes place in the future where mankind has colonized much of the solar system. There are three major power players in the system: Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets. Along with the political intrigue that takes place in the background, and sometimes the foreground, LW addresses minutiae such as the elongated physiology of humans who grow up in low-gravity environments and the stunted psychology of people who grow up on asteroids or planets where everything they eat, drink, and breathe is either shipped in from an outer source or recycled but always taxed.
The science in LW was also enough for me to believe it without issue. I should note, however, that I am stupid. But whenever something is done, it’s given a reason. I don’t know that actual math lies behind it, but the authors did a great job of making everything plausible enough to be believable. It was enough that I could see mankind existing in a future similar to the one in LW.
My personal favorite sciencey aspect of the LW is how spaceships conduct warfare. There are essentially two methods of killing one another in space: warheads and railguns. If you get hit with a warhead, you explode and you die. However, railgun fights are different. The characters refer to shooting someone with a railgun as ‘poking holes’ because that’s exactly what they do. They punch a hole through the outside hull of a ship, straight through everything inside it, then out the far side. Knowing that there’s no way to patch so many holes in the middle of a firefight, one of the preparatory combat maneuvers a ship performs is to suck all of the air out of the ship and store it while all the crew members don space suits as the likelihood of the ship being punctured and losing its atmosphere is almost a certainty.
So if you like sci-fi space opera, I would certainly give ‘Leviathan Wakes’ a shot. There are currently 8 books in the series with another to come out in 2019, so if you like it, you’re set up for about a year or two of solid reading. The show is very good, too!
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