Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This novel is a collaboration from two different writers using a pen name. James S. A. Corey is actually Daniel Abraham (primarily a fantasy writer) and Ty Franck, who has only one other story to his credit so far, but he also works as an assistant to George R. R. Martin. The Expanse is the collective name for a series of books and stories, and Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in the sequence. It was nominated for both a Hugo and a Locus Award this year. It has some fantasy elements, so it rightly belongs in the SF sub-genre of "space opera." They do take some liberties with scientific principles, primarily concerning space ship orbital and propulsion mechanics, but that can be overlooked due to the fast-paced action and interesting plot, along with several well-drawn and sympathetic characters. It's a relatively long book, almost 600 pages in paperback, but a quick and satisfying read. I am definitely looking forward to the continuation of this series.
As well as being an amalgamation of SF and fantasy themes, there is also the element of a mystery. One of the main characters is a detective, and his side of the story is reminiscent of the noir style of that branch of literature. It is set several hundred years in the future, and most of the action takes place in the asteroid belt and beyond. A fusion drive has been perfected that has allowed the colonization of Luna, Mars and several of the larger asteroids, as well as some moons of Jupiter and Saturn. There is a major rivalry between Earth and Mars even though they are technically allies, but each has their own autonomous military fleet and troops. Both of them look down on the "Belters," viewing them as merely the working class. Belters consider themselves superior since they are the ones who have perfected the skills and techniques that keep the mining operations functional. Due to these and other conflicts, the story also has an undertone of political and social discourse. Oh, and one other thing. It's also a horror story.
The largest of the asteroids, Ceres (actually now considered a dwarf planet), is the major shipping port in the Belt. It has been tunneled, hollowed out, and set to spin at a greater velocity to create a higher gravity for the millions of people who live inside it. One of those inhabitants is Detective Miller (I may be mistaken, but I don't think we ever found out his first name), who works for what is essentially Ceres' police force, but they are contracted by an Earth corporation that has major mining and shipping operations in the Belt. Another major character is James Holden, an Earther, a former Naval officer but now the XO on an ice freighter, which makes regular runs bringing water from Saturn's rings back to the Belt. A third character brings the two of them together, although neither meets Juliette Mao until the very end of the book. She is the subject of a brief prologue, but even though she is a major character as far as the plot is concerned, she only inhabits the rest of the book in the thoughts and imagination of Detective Miller. Her parents on Earth are rich and influential, and Miller is assigned to find her and return her to her family since they fear for her safety when they suspect she has become a member of OPA, the Outer Planets Alliance.
I don't want to talk more about the plot, except to say it is unique, fascinating and satisfying on all levels. But the true strengths of the novel are the characters and the worlds and ships they inhabit. The "world-building" here is solid, lived-in, believable, easily visualized. The characters are real and act logically in most instances. All good SF is as much about the characters as it is the plot, and this is a perfect example. Although written in third person, every other chapter switches the perspective from Miller and Holden's activities, and that continues even when they meet and interact for several chapters mid-way. I identified with Holden, but most people will probably think Miller is more sympathetic. Julie Mao is someone I wanted to learn more about, but we only know what Miller discovers during the course of his investigation and search for her. In spite of that, the memory of her will haunt me for some time. More than that I am not willing to say at this time.
A second novel (Caliban's War), has been released, and I am anxious to read it although I haven't bought it yet. A third (Dandelion Sky) is projected for next year. Two shorter works are also available, but only in e-book formats at this time. The Butcher of Anderson Station is a prequel short story concerning one of the OPA leaders. Gods of Risk is a novella set on Mars, but I'm not sure where it fits in the time line. The links I have provided are for amazon.com of course, with the novel links for the paperback version and the shorter stories for the Kindle, but they are also available for the Nook, and I assume for other e-book formats as well. I'm not sure how long it will last, but at the current time the Kindle version of Leviathan Wakes comes with a bonus novel from Daniel Abraham, The Dragon's Path.
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