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156 of 169 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Old school space opera meets futuristic detective story, June 12, 2011
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This review is from: Leviathan Wakes (Paperback)
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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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 22, 2011 1:41:53 PM PDT
"I would give Leviathan Wakes 4 1/2 stars if I could."

Well, with Amazon's system, you have to chose between 4.4 & 4.6.... <G>

Thanks for the nice review.
Cheers -- Pete Tillman
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