Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review - James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: August 30th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 592 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Little does Julie Mao realize that when The Scopuli was taken it would sent in motion a chain of events that will forever change the solar system. Jim Holden and his crew make their living as ice miners. Their ship, The Canterbury, receives a distress call from The Scopuli and they go to investigate it. Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex, and Shed board The Knight to go get a closer look. The Scopuli is derelict. No signs of any life. No signs of Julie. But Holden knows something is wrong, so they head back to The Knight and that's when The Canterbury is blown out of the sky. The Canterbury, the rest of their crew, gone in an instant, by what Holden assumes is a stealth ship belonging to Mars. In his rage at such senseless waste Holden broadcasts the destruction of The Canterbury to the whole solar system, not caring if this triggers a war between Earth and Mars. Not caring about any ramifications, just hoping for justice for the friends he lost. But Holden hasn't quite connected the dots. The five of them should have died on The Canterbury because whatever they found on The Scopuli is worth killing for. He's determined to find out exactly what it all means, damn the consequences.

Detective Miller has been taken off his usual beat on Ceres. His higher ups have given him the case of a missing girl to be investigated as a favor to her wealthy Lunar family. The girl is Julie Mao. She was a decorated pinnace pilot who gave it all up. She became active in politics and moved to Ceres and joined the OPA. The Outer Planets Alliance is a thorn in the side of Detective Miller, but a thorn he can deal with. He understands their desire to not be controlled by Earth. People on Earth can't comprehend what it's like out in the belt so why should they be allowed any say? Of course they're also the ones who call the OPA terrorists. But none of that matters to Miller, he is consumed with the disappearance of Julie. He might not be the best at his job, and he might drink a little too much, but he's also like a dog with a bone, he will figure out what happened to Julie, even after his boss demands he drop the case. But it's too late for Holden, he's a man possessed by Julie. He must find Julie even at the cost of his sanity. It's not long before he learns about The Scopuli and realizes that Holden might be the only one who can answer his questions. But when they finally meet at Eros Station things are much more complicated than either of them imagined and everything is about to change.

It's rare that I pick up a straight up science fiction book. Usually there's some kind of aspect that draws me to the book, a favorite author like Douglas Adams wrote it or it's Star Wars. So out and out science fiction usually gets pushed aside for books with more paranormal elements, thus pushing them into the fantasy end of the spectrum. Leviathan Wakes was actually a book that was thrown in the hat for book club and I can honestly say that when it arrived from Amazon it's heft made me a little hesitant to dive in. Yet I was quickly sucked in, even preaching to other members of my book club that it was a surprisingly fast read that overcomes it's flaws. Because Leviathan Wakes does suffer from a typical science fiction problem, it wants to be the pinnacle of science fiction and to that extent it incorporates so much of everything that has come before it's hard to really laud it on it's own merits. Yes, it stands on it's own, but so much is borrowed or re-interpreted that it's sometimes hard to let it stand alone. You can't help thinking what else it reminds you of. Here's a little Firefly, here's a little Battlestar Galactica, here's a little Doctor Who, here's a little Red Dwarf, here's a little Bladerunner. Each and every one of these instances pulls you out of the book. I can almost forgive Fred Johnson being Yaphet Kotto from Alien, but when Kaylee literally walks onto Holden's ship, well, that's a step too far.

Yet of ALL the references crammed in the most obvious is Bladerunner. Because Detective Miller is just Rick Deckard under another name and without the whole is he, isn't he a replicant controversy. Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I'm just saying it's a thing. It's actually the Noir aspect of this book that is a little divisive, not the Bladerunner homage. And it's not among readers but among the story itself. It's hard to get a Noir story right. You have to have just the right amount of hard drinking, bitterness, and delusions, which Miller does have. But the problem is balancing Miller's plot with Holden's plot. While they do eventually connect and Holden's plot has a mystery at it's center, it is in no way Noir. And when the two storylines merge, the Noir aspect is sacrificed to the bigger storyline. So then why do it at all in the first place if you're going to eventually ditch it? I just feel that this dichotomy between the two narrators should have been thought out more in advance. Yes, it's good to have two very distinct narrators, but they shouldn't feel like they inhabit two different genres. A book needs to be some sort of cohesive whole to work and the styles of these two characters seem to be constantly fighting. In fact I wonder if perhaps this book was written more like the letter game, seeing as James S.A. Corey is actually two people. That might account for the two narrative styles being at such odds. They really needed an editor to fix this.

But then Leviathan Wakes needed an editor in general. There are long sections of the book that could have been excised and the story would have still have been successfully conveyed. This book clocks in at almost six hundred pages and probably two hundred pages could have been omitted. Two hundred pages of battles in spaceship corridors and hiding in spaceship corridors and just hanging in spaceship corridors. And the Amos/Alex thing should have been fixed, because their names are too similar. Oh, and internal monologues! Yes, I know Noir needs these, but as I've already said, the Noir was sacrificed so why not sacrifice a few of these monologues? Oh, and don't think the irony is lost on me that half of James S.A. Corey, the Ty Franck half, is the assistant to George R. R. Martin, an author known for mighty tomes that could use a little tightening up. The extra irony is that he claims he doesn't want to write like his boss... um, ok, so you've totally failed there. But where the editing could have really been used is in the space politics. Yes, I get that with the conflict between Mars and Earth politics have to be included, to an extent, but please, as I've said time and time again, don't bog down your book with politics I don't care about. Contain what needs to be contained and omit the rest. I get too much of regular politics, I don't need to add space politics to this as well. In fact this was a flaw that always grated on me with Battlestar Galactica, too much politics! There's only so much I can take and only so much needed. So bring on the editor!

Though the faults of the book don't take away from the fact that in the end it was still enjoyable and I look forward to reading Caliban's War. The reason for this is that James S.A. Corey has created a believable future. Sometimes when writers imagine the future and how our future will look like in outer space it's just ludicrously wrong. They think too big, too broad, too many aliens. Instead mankind has had about two hundred years in outer space and human genetics, language, and politics are shifting, but not radically, instead at a normal pace that we can see as possible. Outer planets resent the control exerted by Earth, we still can't go beyond our own galaxy to the far reaches of the universe. Mining the other planets for ice to have enough water is big business. These little things like survival and control are big concerns. As for humans themselves, it's interesting to read about what would hypothetically happen to people born outside the confines of gravity, known here as Belters. How it would effect not just their genetic makeup but how their bones would be effected. They are taller and thinner because of this lack of gravity. Reproduction is more difficult. They've developed sign language from the necessity of spacesuits, and therefore their own linguistic mutations with the Belter patois. They are also viewed as different and therefore racial tensions erupt. But this is all believable. This could happen. This might happen. This makes me really need to start the next book.


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