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181 of 196 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 12, 2011
The Canterbury, an ice-hauling ship, receives a distress signal from the Scopuli, a deserted ship with a hole in the hull and a transmitter that sends a signal as soon as the ship is boarded. Soon the Canterbury is attacked and destroyed by a frigate that appears to be part of the Martian Navy. Only the shuttle crew that boarded the Scopuli survives, including XO Jim Holden. When Holden broadcasts the details of the attack, the news nearly ignites a war between residents of the Belt (represented by the Outer Planets Alliance) and those of Mars. Holden's story, told in the odd-numbered chapters, unfolds from there.

The story told in the even-numbered chapters belongs to Miller, a security officer (essentially a corporate cop) on Ceres, a Belt gateway. Miller is assigned to find Julie Mao, the missing daughter of a wealthy corporate executive, and return her to her parents. Miller eventually hears that Julie shipped out on the Scopuli and he goes looking for her. A little less than halfway into the novel, the two storylines converge as Miller and Holden meet in a moment of unexpected violence. Miller's investigation leads him to a conspiracy that relates to the prologue in which a character melts into goo. More than that I cannot say without revealing too much of the lengthy but carefully plotted story.

This is throwback science fiction, an old school space opera married to a futuristic detective story. While much of the background in Leviathan Wakes is familiar (the privatization of law enforcement, the conflict between the old "inner planets" and the rebellious "outer planets" that resent being taxed and controlled by Earth), James Corey (the combined pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) does an impressive job of making it seem fresh. I particularly liked the Byzantine nature of interstellar politics as envisioned by Corey. I also appreciated the characters' philosophical debate about the merits of making potentially unreliable information openly available, even if it might lead to war (which Holden advocates) as opposed to concealing facts to prevent the aggression and rioting that might be sparked by faulty conclusions (as Miller advises). In the context of the story, neither position is clearly correct; that's the kind of nuanced writing that is too rare in science fiction.

Equally impressive is Corey's ability to tell an exciting story ("exciting" being a descriptor I don't often use). Battle scenes, both in space and hand-to-hand, are frequent and furious; they create genuine tension. While the novel is filled with action and thus moves quickly, none of it is mindless; the plot is intelligent and credible. The writing is sharp; occasional sentences and phrases are quite clever. The characters aren't particularly deep but that's the norm in plot-driven sf. Holden and Miller nonetheless work well as archetypes that play against each other: idealist vs. cynic (although neither character is so limited as to become a stereotype). Miller's dependence on his mental construct of Julie -- throughout the novel, he imagines this woman he never met as a trusted friend, a moral touchstone -- is an effective device that humanizes Miller.

If I have a complaint, it's that having characters melt into goo is sufficiently horrific without introducing the concept of "vomit zombies" (don't ask); the latter made it difficult to take the story seriously. Fortunately, vomit zombies are a relatively minor aspect of the plot.

Leviathan Wakes is the first book in a series that will collectively be known as The Expanse. Given the quality of this novel, I'll be sure to read the next one. I would give Leviathan Wakes 4 1/2 stars if I could.
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118 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2011
The Good: A well thought out and surprisingly believable (up to a point, Ill get to that later) universe. Interesting, if predictable, politics in the universe. As a whole, I loved the setting. Neat ideas for combat as well. Very immersive!

The Bad: They started off great, good mystery, decent pacing. Characters are so-so but work well enough given the fantastic setting. They take a great universe and wonderful setting, and then load it up with cliches and rehashes done a million times over. Alien threat, Evil/Amoral corporation justifying crazy actions with predictable rationalizations.

Bottom line: Despite the hiccups, it kept me going to the end, and I will be picking up the next book in the series. The setting and universe was great and intriguing, but the authors (yes there are two, it's two dudes under a pen name) just didn't seem to know what to do with it once they got the setup out of the way and went with the usual suspects.
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65 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2011
If you like Space Opera, this will be the book for you: Leviathan Wakes, by author James A. Corey (a collaboration between Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). Spanning much of our solar system, it's an epic story in a reasonably near future, with an excellently conceived of environment and a fun story that is both action packed and thoughtful. Leviathan Wakes is the embodiment of what good space opera should be: there's a bit of a scientific background that helps to inform the plot, but the focus of this story is on the characters and major events that blast the story forward.

As such, Leviathan Wakes works on a number of levels. Throughout the story, the influence of two authors who have been identified strongly with the fantasy genre is clear in the text: there is a wide, sweeping and epic sense to the world that's been constructed here, and the fingerprints feel very much like there's experience with fantasy here. This ranges from the somewhat tired: some of the characters feel almost a little too forced with the world-weary or tough guy things that some modern fantasy novels seem to be saddled with, to the good: the world building and scale of the storyline, which seems to grow and grow.

In a large sense, a space opera story has far more in common with a fantasy novel, as opposed to a straight up science fiction novel, although Leviathan Wakes feels at times like it's caught between the two, for better and worse: for most of the story, it's evenly balanced between the two, and it works very well from that standpoint: the science helps to inform the rules of The Expanse, while the fantastic elements get taken over by the story and its own momentum. In a recent blog post somewhere, someone made the comment that Orbit was betting that a recent offer of a free ebook copy of Leviathan Wakes paired with a copy of Abraham's book The Dragon's Path would pull in a crossover audience from the fantasy fans, and after reading through this, I can easily believe it.

Leviathan Wakes stands out amongst a lot of books for the world-building efforts that have been put together for this story. In this far future, humanity hasn't quite made it out to the stars, but they've made it out into the neighborhood: Earth's Moon, Mars, (Venus had abortive attempts), the asteroid belt, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and as far out as some of the moons of Neptune, all have some element of human habitation, with a wonderfully rich human society living and working within our solar system. Self-sustaining governments have grown up with their own cultures, and the book really shines by adding in an enormous depth to the environment in which the story is placed: it helps turn what would be a fairly average novel into something that really stuck in my head, and makes me biting at the bit for the next installments in the projected three book series.

The story that's settled in the world is one that works well: the destruction of a ship travelling through the solar system on a transit run, when they come across an abandoned ship, The Scopuli. When their ship is destroyed, a wave of outrage runs across the solar system, angering two sides of a brewing conflict, and pitting the Belters, Earthers and Martians against one another. At the same time, a cop is tasked with tracking down a girl for a family, bringing him on another track towards The Scopuli, and soon, the main characters are caught between revolution and corporate interests. The story really surprised me at points as the authors angled things in unexpected ways, and they manage to pack quite a bit into the pages. The book falls roughly into three parts (and I thought that it could have transitioned a bit better between each of the acts), that bring the story higher and higher to the end, and the entire thing is really a rush from beginning to end.

If there's any fault with the book, it's in the execution, where it felt like some of the book could have been trimmed down from its lengthily page count (almost 600 pages in my copy), and at some points, it feels as if there's parts that are just far too wordy, with excess exposition and explanation that didn't necessarily need to be present.

This book is one that I'll predict will divide audiences along a science fiction / space opera divide. The science here exists mainly in the background: there's some plausible elements here, as well as the usual grain of salt, as ships careen back and forth between the Belt and various planets, with some token explanations, but it's not the central focus of the story. People will fall on either side, either advocating for a stronger or more realistic setting for the stories, and people who might argue that it's not necessarily all that important to the story and that it should be enjoyed on its own merits. Coming to the end, I think that the latter argument holds up a bit better, but I'm happy to see that the authors have given a bit to support it in some measure of reality.

At the end of the day, Leviathan Wakes was a book that I really enjoyed: there wasn't a moment that I found myself really bored, and few occasions wondering why the book was drifting aimlessly: we've got a fun space opera story that's created one hell of a world to play in, with this story thundering out the gates, all guns ablaze, while touching on everything from military science fiction to romantic entanglements, and I'm already awaiting to see what happens next in The Expanse.

Originally posted to my blog.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Leviathan Wakes, though it lists only a single author (James Corey) is actually a collaborative effort by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Since Abraham, author of the Long Price Quartet and more recently The Dragon's Path, is one of my favorite fantasy authors, I had high expectations for this science fiction effort and I have to say they were pretty much met. Leviathan Wakes was a fun ride throughout, an excellent mix of character and action.

The setting is a mid-range future where humanity has colonized much of the solar system with vibrant if hardscrabble habitats on Mars, the Moon, various asteroids, and many of the planetary moons. As the outer colonies grow, they strain more and more under their dependence on the inner planets and tensions between the groups are rising. What sets a match to the tinderbox of politics is the discovery of a derelict spacecraft harboring a secret that will shake the foundations of the solar system and set planets and colonies one against the other.

Central to the events are Jim Holden, second officer aboard the ice-towing ship that finds the derelict, and Miller, a detective on Ceres assigned a seemingly trivial job that will eventually connect with the derelict ship. While Holden is surrounded by a small, tight-knit group, Miller is mostly a loner, save for his fish-out-of-water new partner who grew up in the inner system. We swing back and forth between Holden and Miller's stories for a big chunk of the book, the two plot lines eventually converge and the men come together.

Leviathan really reminded me quite a bit of old-fashioned sci-fi, the kind of stuff I grew up on--Asimov, Heinlein, and the like (though much better crafted). It's a relatively restrained future--we haven't gotten to the stars yet (though a generational starship is being built), no faster-than-light travel, no consciousness dumping into new bodies, no technologies we wouldn't recognize today really. There's a gritty sort of feel to it as well, the future isn't all bright and shiny and aerodynamic. Instead it's carved into rocks via tunnels that measure their standard width via the old coal-car mining tunnels on Earth, the rocket ships are ugly and boxy rather than sleek, people live in domes or "holes"--no terraforming here. And the outer colonies have a definite Old West/Wrong Side of the Tracks feel. As Miller says, "There is no law; there are cops." "Justice" is a bit more gray than it is back on Earth, and may just mean someone gets "spaced" rather than brought in for trial. The science behind all this is plausible enough without going into much detail and I'm sure those wiser than I in the ways of physics or chemistry could rip lots of holes in it. There's some definite handwaving going on--how do they get around? Epstein Drive. What's an Epstein Drive? It drives spaceships. (OK, they give us a little more than that, but not a lot). I'm perfectly happy with that level of scientific foundation for my science fiction--preferring the balance to be on the "fiction" side. Others who prefer rock hard science may find some items to complain about.

If the scientific foundation is perhaps a bit thin, the social foundation is much less so. Though here again, I'm sure one could complain about the plausibility or logistics about how these societies arose. But what we have here feels utterly real, whether it is the tension between mother planet--early colony--later colonies; or the increasing prejudice based not on color or religion but on geography (inner vs. outer); or the way people live, or the variations between say Ceres and Eros, or the Navy spaceships and the mining spaceships (or even, apparently, the Martian spaceships and the Earth spaceships).
The book is fast-paced for its 500+ pages and moves along mostly smoothly throughout. I don't mind slow much, so as with the science, I was happy throughout, reading it in one sitting, but I can see how some might say it lags in a few places. Part of the action is a mystery--what was in the derelict, who is driving events, is the solar system being manipulated into war and by whom and for what purpose, what happened to the missing girl Miller is tracking, and so on. Part of the action is a long chase scene with several smaller chase scenes and mostly involve Holden trying to keep his people alive. Saying more would spoil too many plot points, suffice to say at one point Holden expresses relief that for the first time in a long while, he exited someplace that wasn't blowing up behind him.
The mystery and chase scenes end up creating a book that is at times a classic sort of noir TV or film--the sad sack rumpled detective defying his superiors to doggedly chase a little case--and at times a sweeping space opera involving space battles, space marines, and the like. Both forms work separately and together.

The story is intelligent, exciting, and compelling. There are also nice bits of humor throughout; I laughed aloud a few times and chuckled many more. But what really made this a standout book to me is the characterization, which comes as no surprise as that has also been Abraham's strength in his fantasy novels. Both main characters are sharply defined throughout, both when we meet them and as they change (or not) due to the events they're caught up in. Even better, they stand as near-polar opposites of each other in many ways--Holden the idealist and Miller the cynic. Watching them separately is fun; watching them together is a ball. It is also moving when they are in conflict, which is testament to how well the characters are drawn and how attached one gets to them as a reader. What adds to the impact is that though they stand at such extremes, the authors place them in situations so that the reader can't easily say one is right while the other is wrong. Another way the story is enhanced is via structure, because once the storylines converge, we get to see each main character from his opposite's viewpoint, offering us insight into both.

Beyond the two major characters, the side characters are also fully fleshed out. This mostly involves Holden's small crew, who really feel like a family by not too far in (an easy if somewhat cheap comparison is the Firefly crew), but also includes Miller's partner and even Julie, whom we mostly learn about through Miller's efforts.

Leviathan Wakes ends with just about everything resolved, but the authors have plans for several more novels and novellas in this world setting and personally, I can't wait for the next one. Highly recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2013
I started reading Leviathan Wakes because I'm a fan of the author's fantasy work under the name Daniel Abraham (though I still haven't read the last of the Long Price series, shame on me.) His fantasies have a simple, yet eloquent style that makes them captivating and intriguing, even when not much is going on in the way of action. I wasn't quite expecting the same here, after reading that the book had to do with space zombies, yet still, If I hadn't already known, I wouldn't have believed this was penned by the same man. Does that mean this book is bad? Not necessarily. But it is very different from what I expected, and I can't say I enjoyed it as much.

(Disclaimer: this review should be at least 95% spoiler free. I will do my best not to reveal any crucial plot points but you may learn more about the book reading this review than you would the jacket cover. You've been warned.)

The book definitely had my attention from the start. I was intrigued by the universe, almost Firefly-esque, being confined to the solar system with the stars just as inaccessible in the future as they are in the present. Like in Hunter's Run, (which the author co-wrote as Daniel Abraham) it is a future without the fancy things like lasers, robots and green men that we've come to expect from Space Opera. Leviathan leans more in the direction of realism (that is, until the space zombies). Space flight is boring, hand guns fire metal projectiles and space is full of the same stinky, flawed humans that our Earth is now. Is there anything wrong with any of this? Not specifically, no. I like a gritty, realistic fiction. It's how I like my fantasy, after all.

Before I go more into the setting, let's talk about the main characters. I'll only bother with the two primary protagonists, Holden and Miller.
At first these two are running independent story lines but naturally they merge together. Holden is the Earth born shipman who will do whatever he thinks is right before thinking of the consequences. Miller is a cop at the end of his rope, born in space, having spent his whole life in artificial gravity. He's divorced, delusional and has an inflated sense of his own abilities. They are both flawed, interesting characters and I had no problem reading about them. Holden was perhaps slightly less interesting. While he is flawed, his sense of morals was hard for me to relate with. Miller's chapters, while containing less of the action portions, I found much more intriguing.

As for the story, without giving too much away, there is plenty to make the reader interested from the get-go. We have an intro that alluded to some greater sci-fi mystery later on, a ship that gets blown up in the second chapter, strange police cases and so on. There's nothing really boring going on.

So why the hell didn't I have more fun reading it? I spent a lot of time while reading this book asking myself that question. Holden and his crew are captured, on a ship they believed to be the enemy's when it gets attacked by someone else. Enticing right? Meh. I just couldn't find myself caring. I enjoyed Miller's chapters and his police cases more, but then I realized I was more interested in the environment he lived in, a hallowed out asteroid, than I was him and what he was doing. I did a little dissection of the book (and my own thoughts of it) to determine why this may be the case.

There are two main genres of science fiction: hard sci-fi and space opera. In hard sci-fi I expect the focus to be on the science, at the cost of perhaps a little bit of character development. With space opera I expect the focus to be more on the characters and what they're going through, and the science to be more background noise, because it's less important. To me, space opera should have a sense of wonder. I should be a bit mystified by the whole experience.

Leviathan Wakes is a sci-fi book in need of a sub-genre. It doesn't have the scientific credibility to be hard sci-fi (not that the author tries to pass it off as such, he's said it's working man's sci-fi) and it's just not quite mysterious/ambitious enough for me to make good space opera. It's wide in scope, yes, but for me it's just too cut and dry. The characters spend an arduous amount of time explaining how everything works and when the action comes it's too by-the-numbers. And if the revelation hinted at in the prologue was something other than what it was, I might have enjoyed the story much more. But the space zombies were just too ridiculous to me. Okay, it's weird and mysterious and no one knows where this alien substance originated from, but zombies? Perhaps in the latter books the author goes into the origin of this stuff, but that's not in THIS book. The story just kinda lost whatever hold it had on me up to that point. By this time, Holden and Miller had also turned from subjects of interest into action heroes, with the fate of all of mankind resting on them as they try to stop this plague from spreading. *Yawn.

I can't help but feel that I'm being unfair here, as the book SEEMS to have all the right elements in place but it just doesn't work for me in the long run. It's a well imagined world and well imagined characters but with a hum drum story that I just can't get into. So for the setting, the characters and for the prose, I will give it a 3/5. Maybe I'll read the others, but I'm undecided yet. For now, I'll be sticking with Abraham's fantasy works.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2014
The book start out strong, with an eerie prologue that hints at narrative depth. Unfortunately, any hint of mystery evaporates once you meet the dual protagonists. Holden is your typical "good guy captain" archetype. He constantly find makes morally good (at least according to the authors) decisions with devastating consequences. Miller is a cardboard cutout of every film noir detective you've even seen or read about. He is a divorced, usually drunk pessimist who makes the tough choices. The problem, however, is that none of the choices matter, Miller's or Holden's. Every part of the story follows the same format: characters find themselves in an unfortunate situation, then fight their way out of it. There is no pacing here. You go from one action sequence to another with little to tie it all together. It feels like one of those designed-by-committee summer block busters.

The only, ONLY redeeming quality of the book is the relatively well thought-out world. Asteroid belt colonies, and the hardships associated with living in such environments, are especially well imagined.

In short, if you consider the new Star Trek films superior to the original series, you might enjoy this mindless action fest.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2013
I was substantially disappointed by this book, especially after Daniel Abraham's excellent Long Price Quartet. I came to this book via Abraham, and in fact bought it more for the 'free' copy of his solo book (The Dragon's Path) than for Leviathan Wakes. (Good decision - the Abraham book is better).

The opening was solid, and this was certainly a competently written book, but to my mind, it lacked a lot of heart. I never really got interested in most of the characters. Two key characters are Holden, a ship captain, and Miller, an ex-detective. Holden and his crew work reasonably well as characters, though they never drew a sustained interest. Miller, on the other hand, I found weak - he develops an obsession that I thought was pretty thinly supported, and yet is central to the plot.

The environment and politics were interesting and credible, and I'd have been happy to see more of them. And the book does end up with a good mystery, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.

Technically, there are some flaws. The authors don't claim it to be hard SF, but even soft SF needs to get current science right. There are two definitions of 'anaerobic' offered here, and they're both wrong. (1. bacteria that aren't airborne; 2. bacteria that die in high oxygen). Even allowing for the first as "character ignorance" (rather than "author ignorance"), it's hard to see how this got into the finished book.

All in all, a disappointing read. Adequate, and certainly not bad, but certainly not as good as I'd hoped for. I'm mildly interested in what happens next, but don't feel a burning need to buy the rest of the series.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2014
This book is a combination of cliches with nothing to really grab your attention. None of the characters are particularly original, one is a generic noir detective, the other a bland spaceship captain. The only time they surprise you is when they break from human logic entirely and do things so stupid you can't fathom it. Here is one such scenario.

If you saw you friends killed by an evil spaceship would you:

A) Attempt to escape so you can get revenge later or
B) Send the evil spaceship a list of the names of the people they killed so they feel bad.

This book chooses B. I can't imagine a real person behaving that way.

The book has one interesting scifi concept and the noir detective character becomes somewhat interesting as the story develops but the book never goes out of its way to be particularly clever at any point. I was just interested enough to finish it. The authors clearly weren't trying to write a great book. They threw in a mix of elements they knew are popular and hoped for financial success. Giving this anything more than 3 stars is an insult to better works.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2013
I have rarely seen a collection of reviews better predict my opinion of a book. It was clear what this was before I ordered it: pure, unadulterated space opera. The authors found an underutilized niche in science fiction and exploited it: all the action takes place in a solar system that is colonized, but without a faster than light drive and without interstellar travel (at least by humans.) The universe is fun and not ridiculous by sf standards: Mars is colonized and is kind of a super-power, and people have settled the asteroid belt and I thikn some moons of the gas giants.

The problem with the book is that the writing and the plotting are kind of awful. It's kind of a pitiful pastiche of noir blended with familiar sf. The hard-boiled cop, the virtuous leading man type, the mad scientist, the evil corporation. At times it felt like the authors weren't even trying to bring the characters to life. I don't think I'll be reading any more of this.

fyi along with the (very cheap) Kindle book, I got a free book by one of the authors, more of a straight fantasy. Interesting, I guess, in that this world has many, many different reaces of people, including reptilian and fully furred people. Might have been some room for something interesting there but I found it hard to work up enough interest to even remember which race was which.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
One of the best new hard science fiction reads of the year is Leviathan Wakes from James S.A. Corey. Corey is actually a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Surprisingly, both of these guys are known for their fantasy bona fides. Abraham is the author of The Dragon's Path, the first book in the Dagger and the Coin trilogy while Franck is George R.R. Martin's assistant. Martin, is, of course, the author of the wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series, whose first book the Emmy award-winning HBO mini-series Game of Thrones is based on.

It's interesting that with all this swords and sorcery experience that these two guys have written an absolute kick-ass hard science fiction classic. The universe of Leviathan Wakes takes place in a near future where humanity has established colonies on some of the solar system's planets and large asteroids. To be more precise, Mars, the Moon, and Ceres all have substantial human populations, with distinct and disagreeing cultures. The two big fish are Mars and the Earth, with the Moon and all the inhabitants of the Asteroid Belt (known as "Belters"). There are no aliens, but there are generations of humans that have only lived in non-Earth gravity and have been physically modified as a result.

The story that is set in this universe is a doozy. It is centered around two main characters: Jim Holden and Detective Miller. Holden is the "good guy," an idealist who runs into some Lovecraftian surprises in deep space of galactic significance. Miller is the hard-bitten detective who doesn't even have a first name who doggedly follows his hunch about a case no-one else cares about while history-altering events are happening around him.

The book is an interesting melange of multiple genres; it is definitely hard science fiction (there are space battles with sub-light space travel in the very first chapter) but veers sharply into horror (there are things called "vomit zombies") with a sprinkle of noir (Miller's character is clearly supposed to be some kind of 23rd century Sam Spade).

I don't want to say too much about the details except to say that the story hurtles along at breakneck pace, and although many issues are resolved, one can clearly see how this works as the first book of a planned trilogy. I can't wait until the next book in "The Expanse" series is released; if you read Leviathan Wakes, you will be hooked as well.

Title: Leviathan Wakes.
Author: James S.A. Corey.
Length: 592 pages.
Publisher: Orbit.
Published: June 15, 2011.

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

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