Tuesday 7 March 2023

Book review: Leviathan Wakes: Book 1 of The Expanse


James S. A. Corey

One of the best science fiction series ever shown on TV, The Expanse is based on a sequence of eight novels by James S. A. Corey, pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the first of which is Leviathan Wakes.

Having enjoyed watching The Expanse, I was curious how closely it followed the books. So far as Leviathan Wakes is concerned I am not disappointed. Covering the events portrayed in the first series of The Expanse, anyone who has watched it will be familiar with the main characters and events. For me, though, the most interesting aspect was how the book helped to fill in all those extra details about the characters and their lives which it was impossible to portray on TV without slowing it down. And also, of course, and perhaps even more importantly, the additional insights into the social, economic and political situations that human civilisation has to grapple with after it has expanded into the rest of the Solar System, with the successful colonisation of Mars and human habitations strung across the Asteroid Belt and on many of the moons of the outer planets.

It is a complex and frighteningly fragile civilisation. And, for all the technological advances humanity has made during its colonisation of the Solar System, it takes little to steer it towards a self-destructive war between the various factions: Earth, Mars and the Belt all have reasons to distrust each other, especially those millions who live in the Belt and have grown to resent what they perceive as exploitation by those who they disparagingly call the Inners (those who live on the inner planets of the Solar System, i.e.  Earth and Mars).

Throw into this already volatile mix an alien “protomolecule” with the terrifying ability to take over and alter biological tissue into something either hideously monstrous or, maybe even more terrifying still, into the next, almost godlike state which an alien civilisation many millions of lightyears from Earth achieved umpteen years ago. It was this unknown race that sent the protomolecule on a collision course with Earth with the intention of altering life there into something similar to their own, only for it to be accidentally drawn aside by the gravitational pull of Saturn onto one of its moons, where it has only recently been discovered. This is the catalyst that brings about death, destruction, deceit and war to the Solar System. James Holden and his small crew aboard the Rocinante and alcoholic Belter cop Detective Miller find themselves embroiled in a tug of war over the fate of wayward heiress Julie Mao, who is the key to the protomolecule and what it can do.

Leviathan Wakes is a fast-moving novel and every bit as good as the television series, and I am glad I decided to read it, even though the storyline was familiar to me. The added details and depth of character it provides to the leading protagonists was well worth it, not to mention an added clarity about the issues dominating life in this distant future, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series soon. As well, of course, of future series of The Expanse.

Leviathan Wakes is available as a paperback and ebook (Kindle).

Reviewed by David A. Riley

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