Leviathan Wakes

I recently discovered that James S.A. Corey, the “novelist” who put together the deep space SciFi page turner Leviathan Wakes, is not one author, but two – Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I was initially surprised to learn this, but upon further reflection I realized that the way each chapter switched back and forth from one principal character P.O.V. to the other makes a great deal more sense in a collaborative project where the authors took turns telling the story from their character’s perspective. It’s a brilliant way to write a book with someone.

The premise of the book is straightforward, and still unique: Miller, a cynical, alcoholic detective on Ceres station in the “Belt” (presumably the big one between Mars and Jupiter) has been assigned an Earther as a partner (stigma city in the Belt, dontcha know) and lands a case looking for a missing girl. James Holden, idealistic Earth ex-pat and XO on the ice hauler Canterbury investigates a distress signal from a ship known as the Scopuli, which we know through the magic of prologue to have been the ship the girl went missing on. When Holden and his crew go to investigate the signal, they realize something is quite rotten in Denmark, as it were, but before they can do anything about it, the Canterbury is attacked by stealth ships and all hell breaks loose. One broadcast by Holden later and the solar system is at war, fingers being pointed between the Belt, Mars, Earth, and back again.

In the mean time, an alien protomolecule has found a host and is traveling toward civilization, changing the biology and physiology of all it touches and working toward an inscrutable purpose. As the war intensifies, the alien threat grows, and the search for the missing girl means Miller and Holden’s paths are destined to cross, even though the two men rarely ever see eye to eye. Together, they uncover a conspiracy that changes everything in the Solar System as they know it.

James S.A. Corey (I’ll use the convenient fiction, here) does a masterful job weaving together what I found to be the most enjoyable entry into the broadly defined space opera genre in a very long time. I spend a lot of time and energy looking for books like this one, with characters I can understand and even like, and settings that convey the austerity, mystery, promise, and danger of space – some of the very themes that draw me so strongly to science fiction storytelling.

There’s not a great deal I can reveal about the storyline that wouldn’t include spoilers, and this is a quick review, so I’ll keep things brief. But suffice it to say that this is, for me at least, a new twist on a well-trod genre piece, and in particular, a new conception of what an alien threat might look like. It’s both exciting and horrifying in an Alien kind of way, which is what you want from a story like this. All of us like to be frightened, on some level, by things hiding in dark corners. And as any SciFi junkie knows, the blackest reaches of space are the perfect place for things like that to lurk and pounce. It’s certainly not a horror book, but it has enough of those elements to keep things interestingly creepy.

Miller and Holden are both solid characters, fleshed out enough to be real and perceivable different in their treatment. The tag-team writing of Abraham and Franck no doubt accounts for this, but it accentuates the feeling that these are real, believable people who couldn’t be more different. The supporting cast is also strong, particularly Holden’s crew. Though a bit more two dimensional than our protagonists, Naomi, Amos, and Alex were all distinct, memorable, and had their own parts to play in the drama.

I worked through both the dead tree version and the audiobook of Leviathan Wakes, and both were good. I really enjoyed the cover art by conceptual artist Daniel Dociu (though the German version is also really cool once you know the story enough to get what the picture represents) and have no real complaints about the lack of a hardcover edition. It’s a trade paperback, and a thick one at that, but it seems to hold up well. I got my paper copy from the library, but I liked the book so much I bought a copy for my collection after the fact. The audiobook was hard to find, so I had to join Audible.com to get it, but it was worth it so that I had it with me on my commute. Jefferson Mays does a solid, if not particularly memorable, reading. Leviathan bumped Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon from my audiobook queue because it was just harder to walk away from.

There are some big loose ends at the end of Leviathan, which is why I’m so looking forward to the next book, coming out at the end of this month: Caliban’s War. Mitch Kelly at Hachette Audio tells me there is no audiobook planned for Caliban, unfortunately, but I hope to get a hard copy all the same and have a review posted by the end of July.

If you’re a fan of warring spaceships, pulp fiction detectives, and menacing alien threats, pick up a copy of this book. It’s a recommended read.

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