The novel “Leviathan Wakes” by James S.A. Corey was published for the first time in 2011. It’s the first book in the Expanse series.
Jim Holden is an officer of the spaceship Canterbury, a space tug transporting ice from Saturn’s rings to the asteroid belt. During a trip, the spaceship runs into the derelict Scopuli but the Canterbury is attacked and destroyed. Holden and some of the crew manage to escape but their lives are in danger.
On the dwarf planet Ceres, Detective Miller of the private security force that act as the colony police, receives a particular assignment. Julie Mao is part of an important Earth’s family but preferred to move away to a life of adventure in space. Her parents want her to be returned to Earth, in any way. Miller’s investigation on the girl leads him to unexpected discoveries.
James S.A. Corey is the pen name of two writers: Daniel Abraham, who on his own writes mostly fantasy, and Ty Franck, who worked as an assistant to George R.R. Martin. Together, they started writing the stories of the Expanse series, a space opera set in a future where humanity has colonized part of the solar system.
It’s a kind of space opera closer to the classic one than to that of recent years. The technologies are more advanced than today but are recognizable and the authors’ choice is to limit the scientific component to the essential. It’s not hard science fiction and the authors use elements of other genres.
“Leviathan Wakes” follows almost entirely two protagonists, Holden and Miller. Initially, the stories of these two persons very different from each other are separated but converge in the course of the novel. The plot begins with a attack to the spaceship Scopuli and then expands to involve the various factions that govern the colonized planets, moons and asteroids.
Science and technology have progressed but even in the future of the Expanse series humans have remained the same. Any excuse is good to create divisions and power struggles. Sometimes, among the new powers that were formed in future wars break out.
A new cause of division is the fact that humans living beyond Mars, in very low gravity environments, have developed a physiology different from earthers and Martians. Over time, they have created their own culture but this marked yet another split with the rest of humanity.
The novel’s chapters following Holden’s story are full of action and intrigue with great tension and many twists from the beginning. It’s pure space opera, with various trips within the solar system and even space battles. After the destruction of the spaceship Canterbury, Holden is forced to take command of the surviving crew and bring them to salvation.
Initially, the story of the detective Miller has tones similar to noir, albeit in a sci-fi context such as the colony on the dwarf planet Ceres. Miller used to be a good investigator but has seen too much and his negative experiences weigh on him making him cynical. When he’s assigned the task of finding Julie Mao, he becomes obsessed with the case.
When the development of Holden and Miller’s parallel stories leads them to converge, the story takes a few horror tones when some secrets are discovered by the protagonists. Actually, elements of that type are a classic in science fiction stories from certain mix-ups by H.P. Lovecraft to “Alien” so again the authors took inspiration from old school.
I think the flaw in “Leviathan Wakes” is the use of various cliches, both in the the plot and in the the characters’ development. It’s for this reason that I think that this novel’s level doesn’t reach that typical of novels by Alastair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton, to name the two authors currently most famous for their space operas.
Nevertheless, I still found “Leviathan Wakes” engaging. It’s the first novel in a series but, while leaving open the various plot elements to its sequels, it has its ending so you can read it without being forced to go on with the other novels. I think it’s worth it.