Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

Read:  2017

Author:  James S.A. Corey

Published:  2011

Genre:  Sci-Fi

Pages:  592 (paperback)

Selected By:  Elle Tea

Elle Tea’s Score:  Scoring Great Book

“Two hundred years after migrating into space, mankind is in turmoil.  When a reluctant ship’s captain and washed-up detective find themselves involved in the case of a missing girl, what they discover brings our solar system to the brink of civil war, and exposes the greatest conspiracy in human history.”

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Elle Tea’s Review

I kind of just want to write two words for this review:

Read.  This.

Okay, three words:

READ. THIS. NOW.

I could honestly just leave it at that, and if you chose to follow my advice (which isn’t advice but a command – now expanded to four words: READ. THIS. NOW. DAMMIT.), you’d thank me later.  I’m sure of it.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know this book existed.  I’d put the ScyFy (or SciFy… or ScyFi, or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves these days) series on my Amazon Watchlist a few months ago, because the cover caught my attention… but I never could seem to find time to dedicate to it.  A huge fan of the series and a friend of Mr. BillMo recommended it to him, and he in turn recommended it to her, then she told me I had to read it or she’d sneak into my house in the dead of night and slit my throat.

Or something like that.

Leviathan Wakes takes a tale we’ve heard told a thousand times over, tricks you into thinking it’s got nothing new to bring to the genre, then slaps you in the face and mocks you for your presumption.

Rag-tag group of unlikely survivors led by an uncertain but thoroughly capable leader?  Check.  Damsel in distress?  Check.  Down-on-his-luck but ultimately lovable rogue whose attitude often poses a challenge to the aforementioned leader?  Check.  Nefarious corporation out for its own glory and gain, no matter the cost?  Check.  Mysterious alien disease that turns people into mutant-monster thingies?  Check.

But…

There is a sense of desperate and terrifying authenticity in Leviathan Wakes that is missing in many books (and movies, and TV series, and video games, and…).  The vast expanse in which we are carelessly bobbing along on our tiny blue planet is an inhospitable and chaotic vacuum, and these authors never let you forget it.  Not for one moment.  Our characters carry us across distant but familiar planets, ferrying us between and around them on ships hurtling through space at ungodly speeds, and not for a single second do we forget how fragile organic life is.  Humans have very specific and unforgiving requirements in order to sustain themselves, none of which exist once you break Earth’s atmo: oxygen, food, liquid water, hospitable temperatures, gravity; the only way we colorful, clever little monkeys can continue to exist in an environment like space is to recreate our planet as much as possible.  The people of Leviathan Wakes are more advanced than we are: they have ships capable of regular and frequent space travel; space stations across asteroid belts which serve as the homes for generations of civilians just going on about their regular little human lives; settlements on Mars where colonies of humans have dug in and spread out.

When you got right down to it, humans were still just curious monkeys.  They still had to poke everything they found with a stick to see what it did.

And yet… in the end, Earthling, Belter, and Martian are all still only human.  A single tiny puncture in the hull of a ship can doom the entire crew.  A malfunctioning airlock or broken window can wipe out an entire station.  And you don’t need a Death Star to destroy a planet – just throw an anvil at it; the humans scattered across the surface would barely have time to remember the word “Chicxulub” before they’d go the way of the pterosaurs.

And then there’s the silence.  That terrible, oppressive, empty silence.

But that’s okay, because you’re in good company.  I can’t even tell you which character I liked best, because they each brought something so vital to the story that they were all necessary components to its completion and continuance.  Holden’s naive idealism coupled with his wry sense of humor and desire to do the right thing; Naomi’s stoic strength and surety in the midst of an absolute shitstorm; Amos’s quiet, steady presence and quick thinking; Alex’s cockiness and spontaneity combined with his insane mad skills; and Miller’s blunt, cynical nature wrapped around a heart the size of Jupiter.

Add to all of this the authors’ skill at showing you their vision (rather than telling it to you), and you’ve got a recipe for – well, yeah, there’s a massive disaster going on here, but it’s a great disaster.  An intense, action-filled, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, laugh-inducing, anxiety-ridden, jolly good riot of a disaster that will have you yelling at nonexistent people in an otherwise empty room, furiously sending text messages to anyone you know who’s read it to let them know how jealous you are when your fictional boyfriend “cheats” on you, and laughing aloud – sometimes at a witty exchange between characters, but most often, oh, most often just out of relief.

“Then, Elle, if it was so great, so glorious, so wonderful that you’d force us to read it if you could, why did you not give it five cups o’ tea rather than four?”  I hear you, friend.  And the answer is this: I didn’t know anything about this book, and I enjoyed the hell out of it for the first half, but when the alien goopy black stuff arrived on the scene, I spent quite a few chapters feeling terribly disappointed.  I had visions of Firefly tied around Dead Space in my mind by that point, and the appearance of the mysterious goop pissed me off.  “This is just like every other science fiction thing ever,” I said to BillMo.  “It was going so well, with the whole realistic space experience, and now it’s just… monsters and shit.”

But don’t be me.  Clear your head of any preconceived notions you may have.  This isn’t Mass Effect.  Or Dead Space.  Or Star Wars, Star Trek, Hyperion Chronicles, Firefly / Serenity, or any of the other excellent science-fiction space operas out there.  It will make you think that, for a while.  But it’s not.  It’s a bit of sleight-of-hand.  A ruse.

In closing, I’ll add that, according to the friend of Mr. Billmo, the television series might be okay for people who aren’t terribly dedicated to the book series – but, as happens with so many TV adaptations, certain liberties were taken that might put off big-time fans of the books.  I don’t plan to watch the TV adaptation at this point, but I’ve already bought the next three books and plan to read them ASAP.

And so should you.  In fact, what the hell are you doing right now, you nerfherder?  Didn’t I tell you to READ. THIS. NOW. DAMMIT?  I know I did.

So do.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.

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