Science Fiction on a grand scale, made human by a focus on strong characters.
My reaction to reading “Leviathan Wakes” was this:
Reader looks up from the last page, murmurs, “Wow.” Sits stunned for a few moments and then asks, “Is there more?”
“Leviathan Wakes” is one of those Science Fiction books that drops you into the middle of an enormous and complex universe that you don’t understand, hits you with conflicts between people you can identify with and then challenges you to have the patience and concentration to watch the universe unfurl before you like a frond at dawn, while keeping you interested in the people who live there.
“Levithan Wakes” and the Expanse series it starts, came to me highly recommended. I delayed starting it because the audiobook is more than nineteen hours long, two to three times the length of normal novels, and it felt like a big commitment to make. Two hours into the book I already knew than nineteen hours would flash by and I’d be looking for extra time in my day to gulp them down.
“Leviathan Wakes” delivered everything I expected: a vast space opera, clever tech, detailed world/universe building, a vast cast of characters and a fiendishly complex plot. It does all of those things exceptionally well. I loved the way my understanding of what was going on kept expanding like a Fibonacci sequence for the imagination which kept cranking up the tension.
“Leviathan Wakes”also delivered something I didn’t expect: two introspective characters whose decisions and actions are driven primarily by their values.
Holden, the Earther, is a more traditional Science Fiction hero: believing in the importance of transparency, in the truth setting people free and in the need to confront, expose and defeat evil. He’s a good leader, a strong tactician and unconsciously, unthinkingly righteous. That his righteous often leads to escalating violence and the death of people he cares about is something he’s trying to come to terms with.
For me, the best character in the book is Miller, a Belter born and bred, and a cop of sorts. He’s a man who believes in doing what needs to be done, no matter how unpleasant and regardless of the consequences for his own peace of mind. In the first half of the book, he slowly falls apart. This could have been shown in the familiar external view of a lonely, divorced, high functioning alcoholic cop who’s seen too much and has died a little inside. Instead, I was given a seat behind Miller’s eyes and asked to consider what it’s like when you know those things are happening to you. It’s very well done.
Here’s Miller wondering how his actions made him the isolated, unloved man he now is:
“Perhaps it was like smoking cigarettes. One didn’t do much. Five didn’t do much more. Every emotion he’d shut down, every human contact he’d spurned, every love and friendship and moment of compassion from which he’d turned had taken him a degree away from himself.”
Then, at the most unlikely of times, in the middle of an extended action sequence in which a major plot element is revealed, a fire-fight is in progress and Miller is trapped in the cross-fire and slowly dying we get this:
“He was aware of having two different minds. One was the Miller he was used to, familiar with. The one who was thinking about what was going to happen when he got out, what the next step would be in connecting the dots between Phoebe Station, Ceres, Eros, and Juliette Mao, how to work the case. That version of him was scanning the crowd the way he might have watched the line at a crime scene, waiting for some detail, some change to catch his attention. Send him in the right direction to solve the mystery. It was the shortsighted, idiotic part of him that couldn’t conceive of his own personal extinction, and it thought surely, surely there was going to be an after.
The other Miller was different. Quieter. Sad, maybe, but at peace. He’d read a poem many years before called “The Death-Self,” and he hadn’t understood the term until now. A knot at the middle of his psyche was untying. All the energy he’d put into holding things together—Ceres, his marriage, his career, himself—was coming free. He’d shot and killed more men in the past day than in his whole career as a cop. He’d started—only started—to realize that he’d actually fallen in love with the object of his search after he knew for certain that he’d lost her. He’d seen unequivocally that the chaos he’d dedicated his life to holding at bay was stronger and wider and more powerful than he would ever be. No compromise he could make would be enough. His death-self was unfolding in him, and the dark blooming took no effort. It was a relief, a relaxation, a long, slow exhale after decades of holding it in.
He was in ruins, but it was okay because he was dying.”
I think that’s extraordinary.
I’ve been looking for the poem (yeah, I’m a geek like that) and the best fit I can find is this by V B Price. Please let me know if you’ve found a better fit.
Miller and Holden are constantly bounced off each other as the plot unfurls, each challenging and sometimes changing the other.
By the end of the novel, I liked Holden a little better (perhaps because he’d had his nose broken physically and metaphorically – as his XO tells him, he’d been too pretty before) but it was Miller I was rooting for.
Anyway, I am now so hooked on this series I feel a need to proselytise to anyone who will listen. I’ve mashed this Teeshirt design together. It’s part invitation, part warning:
If you’re not one of the Expanse faithful yet, take a listen to Jefferson Mays narrating the Prolog and see if it grabs you.