Friday, July 7, 2017

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey review

    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 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 makes me want to read the rest of the series before I watch the second 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 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.

    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.

    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.


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