Leviathan Wakes — A Compelling Kick-Ass Space Opera

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:

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The Hero – by George R.R Martin (1971)

Today, I came across this short story by George R. R. Martin called The Hero. It is his first published work of fiction. The story that got his name out there in print. A great stepping stone in his career as a writer. Originally written sometime during the 1960’s, it was finally publicized in the February ’71 issue of Galaxy magazine. You can read it online here. (Warning: major spoilers ahead!)

My Review

The Hero delivers a very engrossing tale of war and military malfeasance, all set in the backdrop of space. The story follows John Kagen, a field officer of the Terran Expeditionary Force, as they invade a new inhabited planet. Kagen has grown old and tired of military life and wants to retire on Earth.

This story was written during a period in the United States when soldiers were returning home with mental and emotional scars from the war in Vietnam. George admits this in a recent interview, “… it was actually triggered by people coming back from Vietnam, particularly green berets and the like, who had been trained to respond violently to any kind of threat, and they had a hard time turning this off in civilian life”.

Two years after writing The Hero, George was called up to be drafted to Vietnam himself but applied for Conscientious Objector status instead. He submitted this story as proof that he had anti-war sentiments. As he mentions in the interview, “… it perhaps gave my application a little more credence”.

You can definitely see the influence this had on a young George at the time. The overall message of The Hero is that war brings the worst out of people, whether that is through killing or by other means. We see this with Kagen when he slaughters the natives of that mudhole planet without remorse. Almost like a machine. And it is certainly true of Major Grady’s character when he decides to kill and space Kagen for wanting to go to Earth.

From what little we know, War Worlders have very little to do outside of war. Kagen has clearly undergone some sort of conditioning to be such an effective killer on the battlefield, reacting to any minimal threat with utmost violence. Like the soldiers returning from Vietnam, Kagen would’ve had a hard time adapting to life on Earth, if he had been allowed to leave.

Grady certainly sees people like him as second-class citizens. When he tests Kagen with the laser pistol, and sees Kagen’s reaction first-hand, he is convinced at that point that Kagen should not be allowed on Earth. After all, letting one of their ‘killing machines’ loose among the gentry would be a bad idea. So, in a way, Grady might’ve believed he had “good intentions” for what he did, even as nefarious as he seemed to the rest of us. This morally gray ambiguity is something common among GRRM’s characters. And you can definitely see the beginnings of it here. “Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.” — GRRM

It’s an interesting take on the consequences of war, even as short-lived as it is. Military science fiction has always been a great way to explore things of this nature. The Hero is a nice introduction to George’s imaginative mind and writing style. He even gets to murder the main character in the end, which, as you may know, is his bread and butter. You can start to see the early machinations of a great writer in the making in its narrative. Something that would’ve definitely been worth buying an issue of Galaxy for back in the day.

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The Blog Starts Here

I received this journal in the mail a few days ago. I ordered it from Amazon. It actually came faster than expected. It was handed to me by a delivery worker at my front door. Here it is.

It’s covered in a nice leather shell. I think it looks good. I bought it to jot down some ideas and thoughts I’ve been having lately about becoming a published writer. A topic that I’ll be discussing here in length.

Let me begin by saying that I have only read about a dozen or so books in my life. Not that many, if I’m being honest. I was never a voracious reader growing up. Most of those books were given to me by English teachers in middle school for assignments. So my desire to become an author doesn’t stem from a long history of reading, unfortunately. That being said, that’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. The key is to start.

In the past few months, I’ve been considering what the best way to tell a story is. Although I don’t think there is one particular medium that is considered the best, for intricate storytelling at least, I keep coming back to literature. There is something endearing about a writer being able to make a person visualize something in their head just by marking words on a page. An author doesn’t have to be skilled at drawing or be some sort of film director to paint you a picture. They just have to be coherent with their words. A good writer, the kind that I want to be, can go further than that, making you invested in a story so much to the point of instilling you with deep-seated feelings.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been wanting to tell my own stories. As a kid, I loved to doodle and create my own sketch comics. As a young adult, I was known to create the world and lore behind role playing games that my friends and I would play. We would then act out our characters and create our own narratives from there. Things like that remind me that I’ve always had an appeal for writing fiction. I just never took it seriously.

Well, I’m taking it seriously now.

To become a good writer, I’ve realized that I need to become a better reader. So I’ve been reading more books lately. One of them is Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. It’s the first book in the Expanse series. If you don’t know what the Expanse is, you’re missing out. It is the best space-based science fiction show on television right now. Not just because of its realism, but also its overall story. I’ve just begun to read the first book, and I’m already hooked. (You can see my reading progress on Goodreads)

If I dedicate myself to this, I can see myself publishing my first written work in a year. I might start with a short story here and there, but eventually I’ll feel comfortable enough to move to bigger and better things, like starting a novel. I already have some ideas floating around in my head. Now, I just have to go ahead and jump into it.

Wish me luck!

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