Leviathan Wakes: A Review

91npjuxxkzlI finished this book a while ago and had to think for a long time what I wanted to say about it. It has been a while since I have experienced a space opera that has intrigued me as much as, say, Firefly or Cowboy Bebop. I am pretty particular when it comes to stories in space – there needs to be enough realism for me to enjoy it. There has to be some kind of realistic science or math that has been woven into a story for it to be enjoyable. And this is because science fiction, like fantasy, is a world-building genre. It needs to have its own realism but it needs to make sense. Otherwise, it is magic, and is a waste of everyone’s time. The “it works because it’s magic, stop asking questions” bit is problematic because it does not allow for people to wonder. It’s also sloppy writing – the author definitely didn’t want to take the time to consider how something might work so instead – it’s magic.

Thankfully, the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey really thinks about these issues and ensures that this world is very much a realistic enterprise. There’s a Star Trek joke in there somewhere.

The first foray into this realism was the description of the Belters – that they are tall, skinny – stretched out because of the lack of gravity that Earthers and Martians all have to keep them grounded. This surprised me but in a way that was pleasant – I am pleased that these authors considered what a lifetime of living without the normal degree of gravity would do to a person. This is also something that no other author that I have read has considered.

The other aspects of Belters that I love are twofold: their creole and their sign language. The creole language absolutely makes sense because the Belters are a combination of so many different people that have to work together in order to build/excavate/drill. It makes sense that there would be a combination of languages. This takes place 200 years after humans started moving into space. A creole language could absolutely form.

Because they work out in space, they have had to denote their feelings and their ideas through their hands and arms because being in a suit does not afford the easiest communication. As a result, they developed specific sign language to explain their feelings or to show gestures in a more emphatic way. It reminded me of the Ademre from the Kingkiller Chronicles – mercenaries who do not show emotions on their faces but have a complex sign language that denotes their feelings. Crafting a new language for a fantasy/sci-fi series has been done (and is indeed difficult!), but thinking about emotions in a sign language capacity is totally mind-blowing.

The other thing that I enjoyed was the careful consideration of inter-space travel. These people do not have hyper-speed capabilities – mostly because humans cannot handle the g-force capable of doing these kinds of speeds. They talk about how after handling 12gs of speed that the human body starts to break down. The crew is shot up with a cocktail of drugs to keep them lucid and together during these high-speed bits. At one point, they cannot even speak because the g-force is far too much.

I point out these things because, to me, this is the mark of true genius. Blending the science and the fiction together in order to make a piece of writing that reads organically and feels human, despite the fact that we are talking primarily about post-human things (their word, not mine!).

There is an immense attention to detail that I thoroughly enjoy. This is not a book that you can read on a beach. This requires a lot of thought and perusal. But it has a little bit of everything: love, death, political intrigue, social science, inter-stellar warfare, disgusting alien stuff!

The characters also felt extremely real. They reacted realistically to situations which sometimes made me mad. But this is a good thing because it shows that these characters have been fleshed out – they aren’t Mary Sues – in fact, I would argue that one of the main characters is the exact opposite of a Mary Sue. This isn’t a nice world. It’s fairly cutthroat and awful. People die quite indiscriminately. This pleases me.

The show is pretty excellent as well. I actually recommend watching the first one or two episodes to get a good idea of who is who and what is at stake. Then you can dive into the book and finish the series after. I actually recommend this action to people wanting to get into the Game of Thrones series of books as well. Watch the first season: then read the books. There are so many characters and so many twists and turns that reading it first is incredibly difficult.

In any event, I highly enjoyed this. I’m diving into the second one as soon as possible.

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