Book Review: “Leviathan Wakes” — James S. A. Corey (2011)

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leviathan Wakes heralds the opening salvo of the “Expanse” series, a massive space opera epic that pretty much eschews technogeekery and gee-whiz skiffy’ism to present a compelling pre-interstellar vision of humanity. Mankind has colonized the solar system, but even with that achievement, they still remain sadly bogged down by the familiar ho-hummery of distrust, greed, demagoguery, skirmishes over resources, oppression, intolerance, prejudice, militarism, exploitation, consumer greed… you know, for kids!

As one character puts it (paraphrased): we’re still a bunch monkeys poking the unknown with sticks, just to see what happens.

In this milieu we have two seemingly independent storylines, one featuring a weary middle aged former cop (now a private security detective) tracking down a missing girl, whereas the other highlights a renegade salvage crew (former military) trying to make their way to safety after a mission goes horribly wrong, with someone (or some dark ops organization, perhaps?) trying to take them out every step of their journey. These storylines intersect, transforming two reasonably grounded plot threads into an epic narrative that goes beyond what either party could have possibly imagined.

It’s an intriguing story, and it pays off well in the end. I enjoyed the universe created here, how familiar it felt, how much of a very real and relatable world was presented by the author(s). I only wish the main characters (the detective as well as the captain of the salvage crew) were painted with a more nuanced brush. The idealistic military officer trying to do what’s right and decent vs. his duty and the hard-drinking, beat up, left-for-nothing detective with nothing but his cynicism and his smarts are archetypes straight out of central casting.

Still, it made for a fun and mostly addictive read. I’m in for the next volume.

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