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Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction
Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: Orbit; Original edition
Publication Date: June 15, 2011
ISBN-10: 0316129089
ISBN-13: 978-0316129084
Author Website: James S. A. Corey

James S. A. Corey (the collaborative pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) kicks off a brand new space opera with a bang in Leviathan Wakes. Nationalism erupts into planetary war, corrupt corporations hide secret and dangerous experiments, and vomit zombies roam the universe in this massive, complex, and exciting new novel.

The story is told through the perspectives of two men, Holden and Miller. Holden is the XO on an ice frigate en route from Jupiter’s moons when he receives a distress call from the spaceship Scopuli. But the seemingly routine rescue mission goes cockeyed when cloaked ships destroy his frigate and leave him and four of his crew stranded on a tiny shuttle. Fearing for his life, Holden reveals to the solar system the planet he believes responsible, kicking off an interplanetary war. Yet Holden may be a only a pawn in a complex plot, as he and his crew fight to survive capture by Martian military, being thrust onto the interplanetary stage, and the machinations of the secretive organization that caused the horror they discovered on the distressed ship they set out to rescue in the first place.

Miller, on the other hand, is a detective in the private police force of Ceres, a hollowed out asteroid that is a shipping hub for the Belt. Tasked by his superior officer to kidnap a young woman named Julie Mao (first introduced in the gripping and horrific prologue) for her rich parents as tensions between Mars and Earth heat up, Miller falls in love with the ghost of the girl he has never met, and what began as a kidnap detail turns into a rescue mission. Miller, the fifty-year-old, burned-out, cynical detective turns into the hero of the hour when he teams up with Holden to discover the connection between Julie, the Earth-Mars-Belt conflict, and the atrocity Holden discovered on the Scopuli.

Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham work well in tandem. There are occasions where it seems that the less experienced writer Franck comes to the fore, but for the most part the two narratives that make up the plot are in the same style. Though a collaborative effort, this novel does not seem like one, and for readers unaware of the pseudonym, Corey is but one person.

It is a big novel, so there is some inevitable repetition. After all, there are only so many ways to describe a spaceship approaching an asteroid. But this is negligible. The character differentiation between Miller and Holden alleviates any repetitiveness. Holden is an information idealist, believing that everyone really has a right to know everything – even when it sometimes blows up in his face. Miller is a cynic who acts heroically out of a sense of duty (not honor) and an inability to do anything else. The clash of ideas between these two men drives the philosophical underpinnings of the story, but never detracts from the shear action-adventure of the plot.

Leviathan Wakes is a big novel full of movie worthy space battles, hand-to-hand combat, near death experiences, a couple of love stories, and a big bad evil to be fought and conquered. It is Star Wars freed of budgetary constraints, Ian M. Banks without the cultural moralizing, and epic space adventure sans the need for a physics degree. Leviathan Wakes is approachable, easy-to-read, and entertaining. It is complicated enough to hold interest, peopled with interesting, likable, and ideologically different protagonists, and full of the good vs. evil that is so comforting to read about in a real world of uncertain futures. And of course, there are vomit zombies. Recommended.