Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is a pulp-ish space opera occurring just prior to humanity’s expansion beyond our solar system and any contact with extraterrestrial life. Earth and Mars are the big military powers while settlers in the asteroid belt and beyond (known as belters) are a sort of second-class of humanity with revolutionary aspirations. War breaks out as harried captain of a diminished cargo crew (Holden) and a down-on-his luck detective from the asteroid Ceres (Miller) find themselves at the center of something bigger than the escalating war around them.
James S.A. Corey is the pen name for the writing duo of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham – with Abraham being a something of a darling for on-line critics and reviewers with a wide variety of works on the market and Ty Franck best known as George RR Martin’s assistant. With that, Leviathan Wakes has been widely reviewed with relatively high praise. I’m not quite as high on it as others, though it is certainly a good, fun read that combines classic space opera with a more modern sensibility (if vomit zombies are sensible that is J).
Leviathan Wakes is not hard SF, but it does feel for the most part like a reasonable possibility. Humanity and its flaws don’t change, they just change location. However the feel of the society at times rubbed me the wrong way – it feels like things are now. I find it hard to believe that society would seem so similar, in spite of few things clearly inserted to try and make things feel advanced – such as the family of Holden, which is a family of multiple ‘parents’ living together in a sort of communal setting and raising a single child (this is also pretty much the only family structure mentioned in the book).
Of course the most topical aspect of the book that you’ll either love or hate are the zombies. Yes, there are indeed space zombies in Leviathan Wakes – or as the they say in the book, vomit zombies. It’s not a cheesy as I make it sound and it’s actually rather interesting, however for some insane reason I couldn’t help but think of ‘space herpes’ from the 1980s SF movie, The Ice Pirates – which really has no resemblance, but that’s how my mind rolls. But there is quite a memorable scene as Holden and Miller flee from legions of vomit zombies while suffering the effects of acute radiation poisoning.
In my opinion what is more interesting and much more successful are the political and personal interplay between various characters and factions. The trust, lack of trust, bad judgment, idealism, obsessive devotion and conflicted loyalty show the flawed human spirit in action.
In short, Leviathan Wakes is a fun new space opera and the opening book in a series called The Expanse and yet another example that SF is not dead, nor will it be anytime soon. As with many others, I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Caliban’s War, due out in June, 2012 (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).