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

Write on: Sat, 14 Jul 2018 by  in Charles' Reviews Be the first to comment! Read 2725


Let it never be said that adaptations don't lead you to the source material. I was led to LEVIATHAN WAKES by the Expanse television series on the Syfy channel (soon to be and, thus, had a bit of difficulty starting on because I knew the story of the first book but was interested in how the story sometimes zigged instead of zagged. It made me want to read the rest of the series before I watched the next season.

In fact, in the age old debate of "do I watch the series or read the books first" I actually think you should always do the latter. This is because you can see a work as how the creator intended and then see how it's adapted. For me, though, that's not possible for this book and I am left having to judge in reverse. So is Leviathan Wakes any good? Oh yes, I think it's probably one of the best science fiction novels I've read in the past two decades. It's a complex novel but manages to succeed in imagining a new world with a minimum amount of words that juggles characterization, action, humor, and storytelling without sacrificing world-building.

The premise is, two hundred years in the future, humanity has colonized most of the star system. There's Earth as an overpopulated hellhole which is on the verge of total collapse but is STILL the most prosperous location in the system, Mars as a militaristic communist society, and the Belt that exists as every oppressed society crammed together as an exploited underclass to keep the other two going. It is in this environment James Holden and his crew of ice haulers (Ice Pirates!) get caught up in a cover-up of some sort of disgusting bio-weapon's testing. They do what a bunch of player characters in a tabletop roleplaying game would do and then broadcast everything across the system, completely throwing the balance of power off throughout the system and ruining the conspiracy behind the cover-up's plans as no sane person would do that. Simultaneously, corrupt cop Miller is investigating a missing heiress who joined a leftist political movement in the Belt that leads him right on a collision course with Holden's crew.

The author does an amazing job of world-building as he manages to keep everything fairly believable as a vision of the next two hundred years. Earth is overpopulated and environmentally devastated but it's still a paradise compared to the heavy environmental factors which afflict its solar colonies. Martians are a little thin-boned but they're much healthier than, say, the Belters who are albino and tall with numerous bone problems thanks to living in zero-gravity. One of the elements I liked the most was the existence of a creole language used by the Belters who hail from all over Earth and have mixed their languages together.

The book is a straightforward adventure in many ways with a lot more optimistic view of just what a small party of four or five individuals can do to mess up the corrupt systems of the world. As much a fan of grimdark as I am, this is all about a group of people who slice through the moral ambiguity and gritty corruption to come out with an ending that's slightly better than the one before. They're flawed three-dimensional heroes and I like how they may not make the right decision each time but they still try to.

Yet, the book is well-done in how it manages to establish how every side IS corrupt and full of flawed people to a certain degree. The Earth wants to hold onto its colonies and keep them funneling massive amounts of water, metal, and other resources to keep it from collapsing. Mars is militant and nationalistic to the point of being on the verge of a pointless war with the rest of the galaxy. The Belters are oppressed but also angry, bigoted, and prone to pointless acts of terrorism. It feels like a believable complex political situation and I appreciated that.

I admit, I am particularly fond of the character Miller and the Belters in general. I like how Miller is coming from the perspective of a film noir hero where there's no good guys and plenty of bad guys. He's a man who is the polar-opposite of the self-styled Don Quixote-esque hero Holden. I also like how his search for something pure and good in the world is something he knows will get him killed or destroyed emotionally but it's all he has left. The Belters are a wonderful stand-in for many exploited peoples and their revision to terrorism is given a surprisingly sympathetic treatment even though it's not condoned either. The Martians and Earthlings just didn't make as big an impression on me as the Outer Planets citizens.

The only problem I had with the book was I enjoyed so much of the hard science element and believable collection of human conflicts that it was disappointing the author devoted so much of the story to the protomolecule element. This is a mysterious alien substabce that has the potential to alter human history completely. It's also more like the T-Virus from Resident Evil than anything scientific.

So, do I recommend Leviathan Wakes? Very much so. It works very well as a stand-alone novel but it's also something which I am interested in reading more of as a series. While the Syfy Channel adaptation is extremely faithful, it's interesting to also see where they made things darker and edgier. I loved every bit of this novel and that's not something I say often.

Last modified on Thursday, 29 August 2019 20:44
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.


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