Leviathan Wakes is the first in a series of novels known as The Expanse. All novels were written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S. A. Corey. The story takes place hundreds of years in the future when humanity has colonized the solar system. An idea that, although not new, is tackled in a much more realistic manner.
The book focuses on two main characters. The first, Jim Holden, is the XO of an ice freighter called the Canterbury, which is tasked with bringing chunks of ice from Saturn’s rings to the docks on Ceres so that they can be turned into water. The second main character is Joseph Miller, a detective on a case to find a missing woman by the name of Julie Mao. As we follow these two characters, the world of Leviathan Wakes is revealed to us little by little, introducing us to a rich and detailed vision of the future where humanity has become a multi-planet species. Set within the backdrop of a great conspiracy and the rising tensions between Earth, Mars & the Belt, the book gradually becomes an epic tale of political intrigue, camaraderie, war, and love.
There are several things that I found interesting about this story. Mainly, I liked how it envisioned human expansionism in space. Leviathan Wakes takes on a more gritty approach to the idea of space colonies based on what we know from hundreds of years of colonialism history. When British pioneers looking for greener pastures sailed to the new world, it wasn’t long before they were seeking independence from their mother country. We know that colonies in South America belonging to the Spanish also began declaring their independence shortly after. It seems settlers crossing vast distances will eventually break off from their country of origin and develop their own society; their own culture. This is something that the book takes into account and uses it under a Sci-Fi setting.
A hundred years or so prior to the main events of the book, Mars declared its independence from mother Earth and became its own nation. They broke off all ties to their home world and began focusing on terraforming their planet, as well as building defense fleets in case Earth decided to retake its former colony. Because they have put so much emphasis on funding their military, Martian war ships are decades more advanced than anything Earth has produced, and better designed in every regard. Although Earth still outnumbers them in terms of fleets, Martian ships are ahead of the curve and will often win in a one-on-one battle. By the time we’re introduced to them in Leviathan Wakes, both of these factions are clashing heads over many conflicts of interest and on the brink of war.
And then there’s the Belt.
The Belt is not a nation but an amalgam of people living out in small pockets across the system, mostly in space stations, moons and asteroids. Belters are dependent on supplies coming in to their respective settlements by freighters and other transport ships. If one shipment of food is late, a lot of people might starve, or if an ice hauler like the Canterbury accidentally loses its cargo, it might mean rationing their water for several months. It is this lifestyle that has made them tough and resilient.
Sadly, Belters are often mistreated and oppressed (being the worker-class of the system), even when they provide the majority of the goods that Earth and Mars enjoy through their hard labor. Over the span of several generations, Belters developed their own culture and language, known as Belter creole, which is a mix of several languages such as Chinese, Slavic, German, Hindi, Bantu and Spanish. This language is not understood by neither Earthers nor Martians. Belters are also physically different from those born in gravity wells. Their bodies have adapted to the conditions of low-G by becoming thinner and taller. This makes some of the inner planet elite see them as being second-class citizens, while other more racist circles don’t even see them as human at all.
This is the future that Leviathan Wakes presents. A space-faring human civilization fragmented into many “tribes” and factions. A future that I find very interesting.
The technology in the book is also very pragmatic. Most of it is based on actual physics and things that might be entirely possible to do. Take, for instance, a highly efficient fusion drive. We’re actually experimenting with fusion reactors right now. Some say that we’ll have fusion-powered stuff by 2030. And there are small start-ups getting ready to be the next Space-X but for fusion energy. So it’s not that farfetched to think that in the near future spaceships could be running on fusion power.
Another thing that made the book a page-turner for me were the big explosive battles in space. The way ships fight in Leviathan Wakes also adhere to the laws of physics, making the action all the more visceral. High-G maneuvers, heat-seeking torpedoes and railguns shooting two-kilo tungsten rounds … Yeah, things get intense. So if you’re wanting action, this is your kind of book. Add on to that the fact that there’s a conspiracy happening behind the scenes of the major events in the book and also a possible alien factor, and bam—you have yourself a blockbuster of a space opera.
Would I recommend reading this novel? Hell yeah.
Here’s the short review I wrote for Goodreads:
“A well-written modern space opera sprinkled with some horror and noir. Spaceship battles, vomit zombies, three distinct factions, an evil corporation and a looming ancient alien threat. What more could you want? The first in a major line of books, Leviathan Wakes is able to stand on its own by delivering a full and compelling storyline. It’s gritty, dark, full of interesting characters with conflicting worldviews, and covers the story of humanity somewhere in between our time and the distant future. Focuses on the crew of the Rocinante, as well as a witty though dead-inside detective on Ceres, and the rising tensions of the military and political circles of the future. Based on the idea of a colonized solar system. If you like to read good Sci-Fi, then give this one a look.”
Also, The Expanse is now an Amazon Prime Original series, so if you’re interested, you can watch all three seasons on their website. The fourth season will be premiering in late 2019. Check it out.
With that said, I leave you guys with a not so spoilery trailer: