‘Leviathan Wakes’ review: Break on through the doorway to our future

Title: “Leviathan Wakes”

Author: James S.A. Corey

Publisher: Orbit Books

Date published: June 2, 2011

Grade: A-

Two hundred years from now, the Earth is under the United Nations’ control, Mars is its own congressional republic and the asteroid belt is packed with various asteroid bases, which millions live in.

This is all according to “Leviathan Wakes,” the first book in “The Expanse” book series by James S.A. Corey, where the reader is placed into a solar system in the brink of civil war. The science fiction-based narrative maintains the focus on the characters and frames the world around them, keeping the reader firmly planted in what feels like a natural place to be, in a third-person perspective.

The overarching plot highlights a girl named Julie Mao working for the Outer Planets Alliance. She stumbles onto something she probably wishes she hadn’t on board a high-tech stealth ship. This prologue chapter from Mao’s perspective lays out the foundations of a mystery that remains just out of the readers reach until the last page is read.

The profanity-laced internal monologues that Detective Joe Miller goes on does well to portray the mindset of someone who was born and raised on a space station in low gravity. Miller may contribute to the novel’s slow start, but he serves a purpose in characterizing the different classes of humans in the future.

Corey said in “Drive,” the prequel to “The Expanse” series that he believes that in the early days of space colonization, humans will not be able to resist reverting to the sort of racist practices that have been around for millennia. Miller is indicative of this, as he repeatedly refers to “Earthers” and “Martians” as inherently different from him and his fellow “belters.”

After growing up on the Ceres space station, gravity is a mere one-third that of Earth’s. As a result, physical differences take root in “belters,” like thin, longer limbs and heads that sometimes look too big for their bodies.

After hearing Miller’s take on the happenings in this introductory novel to Corey’s world is like hearing someone talk about their favorite national athlete in the Olympics. It feels a lot different when you’re an American cheering for a fellow patriot to win an event, but different when you’re cheering for the French or Russian guy. Miller gives us a necessary view from the lens of someone part of a new culture Corey has created, complete with its own nonsensical Creole language.

While many readers will likely be annoyed with Detective Miller’s depressive state that comes from his obsession with finding Mao, I accepted it as the foil to James Holden’s undeniable self-righteousness.

I started reading “The Expanse” after it was recently turned into a TV series on SyFy. Corey’s storyline involving the mysterious protomolecule is the author’s guess at what our discovery of alien life may be like. Much like the rest of the book it becomes a story about human nature.

Some unknown party aside from the Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets Alliance is very clearly experimenting on an alien element, and their machinations shape the entire book’s plot around them. What is more human than poking a strange object with a stick at a safe distance?

With sudden proof of life from beyond our solar system, we begin to see different character’s reactions to this development. Thankfully, the authors provide a bevy of characters with interesting takes on what it means to be human in a future where humanity is no longer alone, and they continue to come up with compelling new characters each book.

Corey Klino is a news staff writer and can be reached at coreykli@buffalo.edu.