Thu
Jan 12 2012 11:02am

More like this, please: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes“James S.A. Corey” is a barely hidden at all pen-name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and knowing the Abraham connection is why I picked this book up last summer. I wasn’t disappointed. Abraham is a writer who knows what he’s doing, and it seems collaboration works just as well for him as writing alone. I met Daniel in Reno and he told me that this book was largely written on Wednesdays, at which I am just in awe.

Leviathan Wakes is in many ways a very conventional, indeed traditional, SF novel. It’s set in the near future solar system when humanity is politically divided into Earth and Mars and Belt, when huge corporations are out to make a profit, and little ships are just scraping by hauling gas or ice. There’s a fast moving investigation and chase, there’s a slowly developing alien mystery, there are wars, there’s science, there’s romance, space battles, close up battles — everything you could want. The unusual thing is that there really haven’t been many books shaken up out of these ingredients in recent decades. I kept thinking that this was the best seventies SF novel I’d read in simply ages. Yet this is the solar system of today, the solar system our recent robot explorers have revealed to us, so much more interesting than we used to think it was. And like the SF that inspired it, Leviathan Wakes is a fast-moving adventure story that makes you think about all sorts of issues in all kinds of spheres. It reminds me of Niven and Heinlein — but there’s also a grittiness here that recalls Cherryh.

Holden is the executive officer of a long haul ship. He’s Earth-born and had a stint in the navy. He’s wildly idealistic and believes that information ought to be free, even if it’s the dangerous sort of information. Miller is a Belter cop on Ceres, getting older, divorced, and with his head  going deeper into the bottle all the time. They aren’t the two people you’d pick to uncover a solar-system wide mystery with vast ramifications, but they’re the protagonists we have, caught up in events and carrying us along with them. They’re great characters. Holden calls his ship Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, and Miller figures it out.

This is a remarkably atmospheric book. From the first page we’re deeply immersed in these spaceships and habitats. They feel like real places — they have layers. (Reno, which I saw for the first time a few days after first reading this, reminded me of the asteroid Eros.) This is a future with classes and politics and revolutions but where that isn’t the focus of the story, that’s just part of the worldbuilding. The whole solar system, physical, political, social, is sketched in and then parts of it are filled out. It’s a lovely example of the universe and the plot being inherent in the characters and their situations — this is a fast read, a book that doesn’t stop to tell you things lets you absorb them as you’re carried along past them. It’s a long book but not a long read — I read it both times in one day, where you’d think from the physical heft of the thing that it would have taken longer.

Leviathan Wakes has satisfying volume completion — which is something I have come to expect from Abraham. It does leave things wide open for sequels, and indeed this is the first of a trilogy, with the sequel Caliban’s War due out this year.

If you like science fiction with great characters and set in real space, you’ll enjoy this one.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

18 comments
Hello There
1. praxisproces
Abraham continues to be utterly reliable, although this one feels different from the solo titles published under his own name; Long Price and Dagger and the Coin have a similarity of vision and style which he submerged here in the unified persona. But it continues to demonstrate the technical virtues I love about his writing: the depth of the character and the gorgeous simplicity of the prose. It's such a relief to read something in the genre that is both (a) written by accomplished prose stylists and (b) isn't obsessed with confronting and subverting the conventions. I love subversion but I love the tropes too, they're why we all got into this in the first place!
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
That sounds really good. Onto the to-read list.
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3. ...
Ty Franck writes way better and faster action scenes than Daniel Abraham... something this book clearly demonstrates.
Chris Palmer
4. cmpalmer
When I first read a review of this, I went to buy the Kindle edition because it sounded like a book I'd love. The Kindle edition said that it also included a copy of "The Dragon's Path" which I had already purchased, but hadn't got around to reading yet. That made me curious, so I went and looked at my Kindle copy of "The Dragon's Path" and saw that it had included a free copy of "Leviathan Wakes". Score!

Both are next on my reading list.
Richard Boye
5. sarcastro
Jo,

I know I read this in quick succession with Paul McCauley's Quiet War, and I have trouble sifting them out from one another - this is the one were the solar system's "geopolitics" revolves around the two superpowers Earth and Mars, right? (where Mars is rich and powerful and industrial and has a superb navy that is the envy of the system) - that's this series, right?

If I am thinking of the same book, I really, really liked this book. The characters really ring true and the stations are true-seeming, scuzzy and teeming or gleaming and repressive, and I liked the whole way the whole things hangs together. The central mystery that drives it all was pretty cool too. I am still fascinated by the end result.

(FWIW, The Quiet War is another series set in the terran system where humanity has split the system into two distinct "spheres of influence" after a nasty war in which the Martians where bombarded into exile, and settling a moons and asteroids into a constellation of city-states, and pushing out even further - Earth, which dominates the system is in turn dominated by superpower Greater Brazil, which controls the whole western hemisphere after a worldwide economic and ecological collapse and it rules by the mantra "God, Gaia and Greater Brazil" - a weird environmentally tinged super-Catholicism. There is a tension between Earth and the "Outers" because the Outers favor genetic alteraation to adapt to new biomes, where the pure life, Gaia obsessed Earthly powers think that people who are "genetically cut" are abominations that must be purged.

But what really links tehse books in my head is the way both authors were able to really think about what life in a space station or colony on a moon of Saturn would be like - the detailed and realistic portrayal of the colonies and "bottle cities" right down to the fact that some of them use bamboo everywhere because it can be grown anywhere, and there is the awesome sci-fi concept of "vaccuum organisms" - nanite machines that use solar radiation to power themselves as they harvest raw materials from barren landscapes and bundle them into bulbs of, say, "pure iron" or "magnesium" that can be harvested for idustrial use and serve as economic basis for some of these little poltical entities to flourish)
Richard Boye
6. sarcastro
--double post
Pamela Adams
7. Pam Adams
Sigh. You know, one of these days, my library is going to go on strike, and refuse all my requests.

Looking forward to this.
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8. tigeraid
Finished this myself about a week ago--I hate waiting for sequals! I loved the book.
Jo Walton
9. bluejo
Pam: That's the lovely thing about libraries, they just keep on lending you books.

Sarcastro: Yes, that's the one. And I'm very much in agreement.
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10. Petar Belic
WARNING: SPOILERS

You have been warned.

I enjoyed this book, it was a guilty pleasure! A couple of the set pieces were quite good - for example the escape as a spaceship/spacestation blew up, where the captain and some of his crew managed to get an upgrade seemed to work seamlessly.

However other parts groaned. For example the 'vomit zombies' episode was a bit ripe with cliches.

Unfortunately the two tropes - the spaceship captain and the noir detective were a little too obvious for me.

The feeling of living in a volume however, was captured nicely. If Leviathan Wakes was a 'warm up', I think Caliban's War might be something to look fowards to.

However, I am under the impression that this is not the only other work in the series. Don't we have another book - a prequel - available?
William S. Higgins
11. higgins
Maybe there would be more good SF novels if more of them were written on Wednesdays.

Mr. Abraham and Mr. Franck should start a literary movement, and publish a "Wednesday Manifesto."
Alan Wallcraft
12. AlanWall
Peter: there is a prequel short story as an ebook (The Butcher of Anderson Station).

I really liked this book, which I agree is a throwback to the 70's (in a good way). However "information ought to be free" is a very modern idea.
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13. Petar Belic
Thanks Alan. I'm a bit over prequels at the moment, but I'll certainly take a look at Caliban's War. Perhaps it will persuade me to pick up the aforesaid novella.
Daniel Abraham
14. TheRealDanielAbraham
In the spirit of crass self-promotion, I feel moved to mention that Leviathan Wakes is available as an ebook -- with a complimentary copy of my novel The Dragon's Path as a kicker -- for $2.99 until the end of the month. :)
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15. shireling
Just finished this book, and I *loved* it. It's exactly what I have been looking for -- a modern, well-thought-out space opera, with optimism. Have previously been disappointed in so-called "new space opera" that were today's usual trendy gloom and doom. Leviathan's wake recalled The moon is a harsh mistress and other classics. And for me, the noir detective worked beautifully. The bonus first chapter of Caliban's war lived up to Leviathan's standard, while taking the story in a new direction. Am champing at the bit for the rest!
Liza .
16. aedifica
TheRealDanielAbraham @ 14: your comment prompted me to buy the ebook. Thanks for mentioning the deal! (I've been thinking for quite a while that I should read something of yours sometime, since Jo likes your books so much and our tastes have a lot of overlap. Apparently now is the time.)
David Spiller
17. scifidavid
Great post. I picked this book up this summer but haven't read it yet. This post definitely caused it to scoot closer to the top of my to be read pile.
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18. Sandman81
n.b. the free Dragon's Path does not work for UK customers. But the book is significantly cheaper for UK customers so we can't complain too much

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