Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1), by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a tricky one for me… I have tried reading science fiction before and (usually) didn’t like it. It was all too often dark, gritty and bleak, set in a dystopian universe in which pretty much everyone acts completely self-absorbed. Thus, I disavowed science fiction in books because I’m a closet optimist: I’ve subscribed early on to the philosophy, the idealism and optimistic view of the future as imagined in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

(And, in fact, while we’re far from it yet I do believe we will get there one day. We’re going to overcome today’s egotism, the Pathological Orange Trickster of the United States (POTUS), we will find lasting and sustainable solutions for global warming, water scarcity, hunger and all the challenges humanity is and will be facing. Even if it’s only for the simple reason that it’s that or extinction – and I refuse to accept the latter.)

“Leviathan Wakes” is (mostly) the former kind of sci-fi: We witness a beginning war between several factions (Earth, Mars, the Belt), we see “vomit zombies” and, in general, some parts of this book were so gruesome and almost depressing that I considered to give up on it entirely.

I understand the grit and grime to be essential explanations of the condicio humana, the human condition, as it is in the fictional universe of “Leviathan Wakes” but I don’t want or need them. I need to believe I can improve my world a little bit for as long as I’m here at least.

There’s a general grittiness to the entire setting that is far from what I prefer in sci-fi. In addition, I’m not really a fan of the “noir” genre by which “Leviathan Wakes” obviously was inspired by as well.

The story is great, though: Due to acts of brutality in order to instigate a war, we meet Miller, a down-trodden cop, and Holden, first an officer on a ship that becomes a victim of the afore-mentioned provocations, later on serving as captain of his own ship.
Whereas Miller is disillusioned by his work, the general state of the world and life as such, Holden is an incurable idealist. Holden unwaveringly tries to do everyone justice and wants to be a force of good in his world and acts accordingly.

One bad mistake on either side and both planets might be radioactive rubble by the end of dinner. But right now they were just friends having a meal together. It was right. It was what Holden had to keep fighting for.

Together (albeit not always voluntarily), Holden and Miller try to unravel the mystery of cloaked ships and their attacks, the intentions of an aggressive alien protomolecule and, ultimately, to save humanity as a whole.
As can be derived from these broad topics, “Leviathan Wakes” features a long, complex story that plays out over many months.

The narrated point of view switches between those of Holden and Miller respectively which is, especially at the beginning of the book, somewhat tiresome because until they finally meet (after about one third of the book!), both their storylines don’t obviously overlap and it’s sometimes hard to get back into the reading flow. Once the storylines merge, though, the switches turn from nuisance to elegant pleasure.

At times, I was basically fighting my way through this book because I felt a complete absence of hope for the situation and our heroes whom I found extremely convincing and relatable.
Each and every character was masterfully created – even those on the sidelines – and the developments among them felt so real and plausible that I just couldn’t bring myself to give up.

Plus: Right after a major turning point (Eros Station…) a tiny spark of hope appeared. This, too, was brilliantly orchestrated by Corey and helped me get over the reading-induced blues I was feeling.
Holden’s idealism, the antithesis to Miller’s abjectedness, to what Miller calls his “death-self”, also helped a lot to get me through this book. This area of conflict between both men was at times almost painful and stressful to witness but so fascinatingly written that I found it entirely, almost overwhelmingly so, believable and plausible.

The great writing, the suspense (sometimes hardly endurable!), the interesting setting and the richness of the universe in which I even liked someone aptly nicknamed “the Butcher of Anderson Station” – they all made this book an unforgettable experience.

Ultimately, “Leviathan Wakes” is challenging, long, complex and dark but of an overall quality that makes it feel like it pretty much plays in its own league.

If you’re even slightly into science fiction and can make it past what happens on Eros Station, give “Leviathan Wakes” a try. Highly recommended – especially considering the amazing ending!

If you lean more to the whacky side of sci-fi, give Tony James Slater and his “The Ancient Guardians” series a spin which I actually enjoyed, too.

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