Wanting to take a break from an overdose of “Gritty realistic” fantasy – I decided to try the hugely successful Hugo-nominated space opera, Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey that came out last year (2011) and was definitely the toast of the entire SFF Community for over a year. True to all its hype, awards and favorable reviews on the net, this book was a rip roaring fun ride with all stops pulled out. A sweeping space opera that brings back the joy of light-hearted science fiction with the just the right bit of intellectual overdose but a lot of character-driven drama that forces you to think and digest the believable premise to the story. This book forms part One of a series called The Expanse, with two more on its way ( part-II, Caliban’s War is out even as I write this and I believe the Epstein-drive powered space joy-ride takes readers to the next level!)
The Expanse is set in a time-frame where space travel to the far out galaxies is still a science-fiction dream, but humans have gone out to start living on Mars and the belt of asteroids, moons between Jupiter and Saturn. Peppered with interesting org names like the OPA (Outer Planetary Alliance), the first book introduces us to the Earthsters & Martians known as the inner planets and the far out people living on the Belt. It sets up quite nicely the beliefs, philosophies and conflicts between these set of people that is relevant to the basis of the series. Government clashes, political intrigues, nuke explosions, space – chases, gun fights and zombies – a heady concoction of all this in a light SF-esque base, this describes the Leviathan Wakes best.
It’s at heart a character study of the two men, Holden and Miller around whom is pivoted the entire plot. As different as chalk and cheese, it’s the crackling interactions between these two that make up for most of the golden moments in the book. Wit and sarcasm as sharp as the acetylene-cutting torches used in space drives, the conflicting mental make-up of the two heroes drives the book forward.
Holden is your quintessential hero, smooth talking, good looking hero material with a heart of gold and a righteous conscience hardwired in ethics of black and white. At the beginning of the story, he’s the XO (Exec Office, something like a second in command or First Mate) of this space ship freighter that lugs ice from the moons of Saturn back to space stations in need at the Belt. The story goes on an Epstein-powered high speed drive once this harmless freighter locates an abandoned space ship that looks to have been attacked and boarded on by pirates. The ship is attacked by a stealth ship and everybody on board the freighter is killed. Holden and four of his immediate crew escape. Holden relays this dastardly act to the entire galaxy - making it seem like a Martian naval fleet attack.
Back on the Belt, Miller who is a detective on board one of the Belter space stations, responsible for peace and security gets a new case: tracing a missing girl. the complications arise when he realizes the missing girl had been a passenger aboard the abandoned ship that was attacked and boarded on in the middle of nowhere – which Holden’s crew had stumbled upon.
Authors weave in an air of mystery/noire into the proceedings with Miller tracking down the clues and piecing together what happened aboard the abandoned space ship and why was Holden’s crew attacked. Meanwhile Holden on the run from unknown assailants – join hands with Miller and they unearth a deadly secret that might spill out from the Belt and engulf the whole galaxy. A secret for which they are being hunted by powerful organizations who would stop at nothing. From here on, the tale just blows over at a scorching pace till the jigsaw puzzle is put together at the end.
The authors go subtle, dropping hints and not revealing the entire master plot and this kept me hooked on pretty fine. The detective’s best qualities are perhaps his detachedness and a grim sense of realism that keeps him and the entire Holden crew alive through the book. A dour faced drunken loser with little or no hopes of human salvation, Miller is a far more interesting character than Holden. I found him to be much more engaging but clearly, Holden is the star of the book for the authors, for he is the character that grows up and evolves through the book. The others are all well etched out – a winner for me is the sinister Colonel Fred Johnson – whom we don’t really know if he is evil or a savior of humanity. The author keeps the suspense till the end. I did find bits a little boring – but as the boredom tended to slip down a slope and gather momentum, the authors would kick in with a new tit bit that would make my ship soar again. Very well written, brilliantly paced plot.
The authors have set out to write just that. A lucid old fashioned space opera that is RARE these days – keeping things simple and shooting straight. Thank you for introducing me to the Expanse. Would definitely be on the ride for the rest of the exploration. Five stars.