Novel Recommendation: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

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I find the lack of science fiction novels sitting on my shelf to be quite embarrassing, if I’m being completely honest. I’m a huge fantasy nerd and my bookcases reflect that. I also get extremely engrossed in sci-fi shows, movies, and video games. Firefly, Star Wars, and Mass Effect are three of my all-time favourite pieces of entertainment and narrative. Yet, when it comes to novels that involve technology, space, or the future, instead of magic, warring kingdoms, or a medieval setting on steroids, I just don’t seem to be as drawn to them as I feel I should be.

I think my biggest problem is that I’m not one to be engrossed by the latest science or tech news. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll stumble upon articles that I get completely entranced by, showcasing where we are right now and where we will be that end up blowing my mind. I get truly excited when I hear what’s happening in the medical field, where robotics is heading, how close or not close we are to getting Iron Man armor, all that stuff. It’s super rad. But if you put a dwarf or a dragon or chainmail in front of me, I seem to gravitate towards it like a science pun that should go here but isn’t, because me and science no good.

That’s why Star Wars is probably my favourite “sci-fi” universes, because it is space fantasy with space wizards and space swords and you get the idea. However, I have been trying to make more of an effort to read genuine science fiction and, thanks to a friend, I was turned onto the first novel in the Expanse series. Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in an on-going series from author James S. A. Corey and my friend assured me that I would love it because it takes place in space, but the narrative doesn’t get bogged down in too much technical jargon. It’s also been adapted for television on the SyFy and, from what she tells me, it’s pretty damn good too. Given that it received high praise, and the possibility of added entertainment on the small screen once I was done reading it, how could I not pick it up? Unsurprisingly, I was pleasantly surprised.

Corey introduces us to a future that has not seen humanity conquer the stars, expanding its reach from one galaxy to the next, but rather extend our reach out enough into our own solar system to seem like we accomplished the impossible. Earth remains the motherland while Mars is the shiny new toy no matter how many decades has gone by since its colonization. A string of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, known as the Belt, are home to a number of space stations that keep their resource hungry parent planets happy by providing much needed supplies like water from Saturn’s rings. Relations between Earth, Mars, and the Belt are tenuous to say the least, especially between Belters and Martians, but when the destruction of a Belter ice hauler is broadcast to everyone in the galaxy, tempers flare. When evidence points to one of the planets as being the culprit, all hell breaks loose. No matter where we are, humans just can’t seem to get along.

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We follow two main protagonists throughout the novel whose paths cross and intertwine as they search for answers to the barrage of questions they unearth as the story unfolds. James Holden, an Earther executive officer turned captain after the destruction of the aforementioned ice hauler, and Joe Miller, a Belter detective working on Ceres station for Star Helix Security. Miller is working a case that may have ties to the incoming war, which leads him in the direct path of Holden and his crew as they search for answers regarding their ship’s destruction. Together, they manage to discover what in the hell is going on, but there’s always something else isn’t there?

What really hooked me into this story was how natural and real it felt, though the why of it all may mean we need to re-examine humanity’s present. In this future, humans are still assholes. They’re still racist, they’re still corrupt, they’re still shitty. Not everybody, of course, but, just like real life, too many to disregard out of hand. Corey paints a picture of an expanded galaxy where we have managed to colonize the stars, talk to each other across the vastness of space, and fly spaceships, while sticking to the same old prejudices, except this time it’s not the colour of one’s skin but the length of their bones and how well they sustain low gravity. It’s shocking – yet not at all – how real and unremarkable this behaviour is and that’s horrifying. To think we can get out all the way past Mars and remain so unintelligent? It’s frightening and it makes this future world seem all the more real.

That isn’t to say they are no good people out in the Belt, far from it. With Miller and Holden, we get two sides of the “do what’s right” coin. In simple terms, Holden is the Superman to Miller’s Batman. Our kryptonian stand-in refuses to shoot first, believes everyone deserves to know the truth no matter what, and holds on to hope. Our cynical bat, on the other hand, has seen too much shit and dealt with too many crooks, dealers, murderers, and worse to believe that everything will work out for the best. One sits around worrying that he’s not doing enough while the other deep dives into doing far too much in a short amount of time. I was happy to see that the narrative follows these two characters, flipping back and forth between them with each new chapter, and reading their interactions was the highlight of the novel. Holden was a bit too naïve for me, and I have no problem with truly good characters. Other than that, I enjoyed them both immensely.

When it came to the science behind everything, I wasn’t daunted or put off by reading terms and jargon I didn’t understand. I am genuinely fascinated by the leaps and bounds humanity makes on a near daily basis, but sloughing through paragraphs of terminology I know little to nothing about when reading a book about a space detective doesn’t sound fun to me. Of course, we live in a world of contemporary science fiction and I really have nothing to worry about, especially with Corey’s writing. He tells you exactly what you need to know, as light or as heavy as is needed for the scene, and keeps you engaged as soon as you have that “oh I wonder how that works” moment. I was never bored or restless when explanations were needed about this or that piece of tech. That should tell you this man knows what he’s doing.

This is a series I will be continuing with fervor. Engaging protagonists, fun secondary characters, an interesting look at humanity’s future, and a satisfying conclusion to the first book that keeps you wanting to come back and see what happens next. I did find that it began to drag for me at the last one-hundred or so pages, but only because it felt like there had already been an ending before the final reveal had occurred. Leviathan Wakes is a hefty book weighing in at five-hundred and eighty-pages, so I can’t say I was surprised, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed if it wrapped up a little sooner that it did. Either way, I look forward to grabbing the second in the Expanse series, Caliban’s War, in the near future and I am thrilled to have added Leviathan Wakes to my sparse, if growing, sci-fi collection.

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