Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey (pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: June 15th, 2011
Jim Holden is the executive officer on the spaceship Canterbury, an ice hauler that delivers water to the creole-speaking "Belter" colonies outside the asteroid belt. He and his crew receive a distress signal from a stranded ship, the Scopuli. When he takes a small crew out to search for survivors, the Canterbury is attacked by mysterious stealth ships. Because of choices made by Holden, Mars and the rest of the Outer Belt are at war, and Earth might join in at the slightest provocation.
Meanwhile, Detective Miller works as on the orbiting station Ceres. When he's handed a side job to find a missing girl connected to the Scopuli, his search goes from job to obsession. Meanwhile, his world is falling apart around him. With tensions on the rise between the planets and the Outer Belt, Miller and Holden will need to combine their skills and knowledge in order to uncover the conspiracy behind the impending war, the Scopuli, and an unknown horror that awaits humanity.
Leviathan Wakes is the first entry in the science-fiction series "The Expanse," and was a 2012 Hugo Award nominee. Each chapter the narrative structure switches between the perspectives of Holden and Miller, giving us deeper insight into their thoughts, personalities, and motivations. Which is good, because character is most of what the book has going for it. That and an awesomely twisted virus that combines the best parts of zombies and Alien.
Holden is described as a moralistic white knight and a natural leader, someone who acts because he believes in right and wrong and thinks others should adhere to these guideline as well. His crew is made up of people a little grayer on the ethical spectrum, but they defer to him because they know he will guide them in the right direction (or at least a reasonable one). Holden is a "modern" (future?) day Edward Snowden, who accesses information he deems incriminating and broadcasts it throughout space. Unlike Snowden, he doesn't understand or seem to care about the ramifications of his actions, which leads to consequences that set the book's conflicts in motion. Holden and his crew make for a fascinating dynamic, and their moments together make for some of the best parts of the book.
Whereas Holden works in a group dynamic, Miller is a complete loner. He has isolated himself from everyone, including his partner. As such, he has become so lost in himself that he hasn't realized how much of a cliché he's actually become. When that epiphany finally hits, it's fairly devastating and makes for a great character moment. Miller's detective skills and ability to read people make him both incredibly resourceful but also dangerous, and his search for the missing Julie Mao leads to an unhealthy fixation.
Naturally the two men meet up and are forced to work together at certain points in the narrative, and their dynamic is excellent. Holden is young, charismatic, and hopeful; Miller is older, bitter, and cynical. One is a space opera hero, the other is a noir detective. By all rights they shouldn't even be in the same universe, yet they are and it works. The two clash but also compliment each other, often with heartbreaking results.
What pulled me in the most was the mystery of what was aboard the Scopuli. We know it's something truly bizarre; the prologue opens up on the ship from Julie Mao's point of view and we get a brief glimpse at the horror that lies in store. The word Lovecraftian is used a lot (especially by me), but this definitely fits the description. It makes for some horrifying yet oddly engrossing moments throughout the book.
In the world of speculative fiction, my interests definitely lean more towards fantasy than science fiction. That means that I'm usually at a loss for what other sci-fi fans already adore and appreciate about their stories. My biggest struggle with Leviathan Wakes was understanding a lot of the techno-babble which, thankfully, was not that far off language-wise from what is usually used on modern ships. It's actually not as deep and involved in the science as I imagined it would be, and brings many things down to a level that even an idiot like me could understand. That being said, throwing in super-advanced weaponry, the physics of a spaceship docking an orbiting station, the concept of a "couch" used on spaceships and all the horrifying motions the body goes through when changing gravities all make for very confusing reading for someone like me who is not used to science fiction jargon and tropes.
This series was recommended to me by several friends, and after hearing about the latest release from a month ago, I decided to give this a shot. I'm glad to say I was not disappointed, and I will definitely be continuing this series from this point on. If you're a fan of sci-fi or space operas, or want something that mixes a little bit of Star Trek, Firefly, and noir thrillers, then give this a read. You can also check out the Syfy series "The Expanse," which is based on the series and is entering its second season this February.