Leviathan Wakes

James S. A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes Cover

Leviathan Wakes: Space Opera, Mystery, and Vomit-Zombies

Scott Laz

Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing as James S. A. Corey. (Abraham likes to keep his fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy writing personae distinct from each other.) The novel is an attempt to do a straight-up space opera adventure, incorporating hard-boiled mystery and horror elements along the way.

The book accomplishes what it sets out to do pretty well. The mystery aspects are interesting, the story is suspenseful and often exciting, and the character relationships are well done. The political and economic aspects seem a little too simple, but I suppose this is something of an occupational hazard for writers attempting stories on such a large scale. It’s a few hundred years from now (I don’t recall the precise date ever being given), and the “Epstein Drive hadn’t given humanity the stars, but it had delivered the planets.” The frontier urge has been reignited when people have the opportunity to colonize Mars, followed by “The Belt”—the asteroids between Mars and the outer planets, several of which have been hollowed out and engineered into permanent stations, complete with gravity resulting from their being “spun up.” Stations on Ceres, Eros, and Tycho hold more than a million people. Back on Earth, there are over 30 billion.

As part of a plot to distract the Solar System from their nefarious activities, the Protogen Corporation, with some cooperation from the Earth government, fabricates several incidents designed to fan the tensions between Mars and the Belt into a war. These activities involve experimentation on a recently discovered alien “protomolecule” with the ability to re-engineer life forms.

The novel is told from the alternating points of view of two characters. Holden is XO on a ship that is destroyed while he is off with a few other crew members investigating a derelict. The destruction of both ships is part of the events set in motion by Protogen, and Holden, with his small remaining crew, embarks on a mission to get to the bottom of what happened. The other point of view character, Miller, is a policeman working as part of a private security force on Ceres. He is investigating the disappearance of a woman whose whereabouts and role turn out to be central to understanding Protogen’s machinations. His investigation brings him into contact with Holden’s crew as he continues the search on his own after political upheaval on Ceres makes his position there untenable. The contrast between the idealistic and uncompromising Holden and the hard-boiled and cynical Miller is at the core of the novel. The two work together and apart, but are in nearly continual conflict despite their common goals. It’s difficult for them to work together, but they may need each other…

There’s much to like in this book. Along with well-done characterizations of people under extreme circumstances, we get tense space battles, alien-infected (and contagious) vomit-zombies, an attempt to ram a generation starship built for the Mormons into an infected asteroid (favorite line: “The Mormons are going to be pissed”). There’s nothing really below the surface here, but the idea is clearly to give us an exciting science fiction adventure, and “Corey” has succeeded pretty well at that. After I finished, I wasn’t sure that it merited the time invested in it (in other words, at over 500 pages, I wished it were shorter), but it held my interest pretty well while I was reading. Leviathan Wakes is the first of a series of at least three books, and there’s a good chance I’ll give the sequel a go. Abraham and Franck are good storytellers, and there are aspects of this future Solar System that remain intriguing. The authors are making a case that even without the stars, the solar system provides a huge canvas on which to paint a space opera series.