Posted by: Neil Hollands
Space opera debuts that clock in at 560 pages aren’t typical book group material, but Leviathan Wakes, by “James S. A. Corey” is a book for which exceptions are worth making.
Corey is actually a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham, one of fantasy’s most underappreciated talents, and Ty Franck, who up until now has been best known as George R. R. Martin’s (Game of Thrones) assistant. In Leviathan Wakes they build a story of humanity on the cusp of the great unknown. We’ve built ships with drives fast enough to make travel in our own galaxy feasible, terraformed Mars and filled it with great domed cities, and populated the Outer Belt of asteroids with space stations that process the raw materials so abundantly available on the outer edges of our solar system, but we haven’t managed to get beyond our own galaxy. Political rivalries between Earth, Mars, and the Belters have also grown, and an event at the start of the book sets the match to the powder keg: an innocent Belter water-hauler, the Canterbury, responds to a rescue call and is blown out of the sky by what seems to be a Martian stealth ship. Soon events escalate, and war looms in a world where ships and domed cities are fragile and weapons are plentiful.
The story alternates between two fantastic and very different characters. Holden is the leader of the survivors of the Canterbury, a small group away from the ship on a shuttle mission when the destruction occurred. He’s an idealistic man who believes that if the galaxy just knows the truth, war can be averted. The book finds him chasing across the solar system to uncover the identity of the people behind the war, but his early attempts to identify the culprits only bring more parties into the conflict. His counterpart is Miller, a cynical space station cop whose descent into alcoholism is interrupted by escalating conflict on Ceres Station and a sidejob in search of a Patty Hearst-like heiress turned revolutionary.
The mystery soon escalates, and Holden and Miller, first separately, then in tandem discover that the origins of the war may be connected to a mysterious protoplasm, a remnant of an alien civilization that serves up first contact as a plague, and threatens to remake the biomass of its victims into an intelligent new life form.
This is a book with great characters, perfect pacing, humor, science fiction, mystery, horror, and even a little bit of romance all combined into a fast reading package. Although it begins a series, the conclusion of the first book is satisfying enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a book group. There are plenty of interesting ideas and enough character-based conflict to make your discussion flow easily. I’m ready for Caliban’s War, the sequel that comes out later this week.