Monday, July 6, 2015

Audiobook Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Book Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: A good space opera tale with equal parts hard sci fi and pulp adventure

Leviathan Wakes is the first book in The Expanse series written by James S. A. Corey (the pen name for the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  It takes place in a future where humans have colonized the solar system but have not ventured out to the stars yet.  Three major political entities have emerged from this expansion into space: the Earth United Nations, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (primarily located in the asteroid belt).  The book starts out with two separate storylines that eventually converge.  One follows a group of crew members that survive the destruction of the ice freighter (which takes water to the outer planets) they were on, after they stumble upon some information that could break the fragile peace within the solar system.  The other storyline follows a detective on the Ceres station in the asteroid belt who is investigating the disappearance of  a girl with influential parents.  These two groups eventually meet up and find themselves at the center of an escalating conflict between the political powers of the solar system.

Leviathan Wakes is good, breezy sci fi that tries to keep its science as accurate as possible but that also throws in plenty of pulp story elements to keep it moving along.  The character development is decent, though it is the three male leads (Jim Holden, Detective Miller, and Fred Johnson) that get the most attention in this respect.  The rest of the characters are given broad strokes of characterization, but they still manage to register well enough throughout the story.  And it does pose some interesting sci fi concepts with the alien proto-molecule and the moral dilemmas that arise from its presence.  But it succeeds best at delivering a grand space opera tale that rarely comprises its science and that never bogs down as it sets up an interesting universe with plenty of potential for more stories.

Syfy is currently in the process of adapting this to a television series (to be titled The Expanse) with a ten episode order for its first season.  In my opinion these books would translate quite well to the small screen and Leviathan Wakes probably has more than enough material for that inaugural season (there are currently four more books in the series as well).  If they rely heavily on the source material, this could be quite a good series and possibly the next great sci fi show.  Syfy's two current space opera shows Dark Matter and Killjoys show some promise even if they lapse a bit too much into copy and paste sci fi.  But if the network puts a little bit more effort in The Expanse and treats the books with the respect they deserve, then they could have their next Farscape/Stargate/BSG on their hands.

As for the audiobook, Jeffrey Mays delivers a solid reading of the material.  He is not called upon to do too much in the way of accents (except the Belters speaking in their pigeon tongue), and he does a decent job of distinguishing between the characters.  He gives a clean reading that never detracts from the story and keeps it moving along at its brisk pace.  Since the book is not too dense, it translates well to audio and this a good way to experience it.

I wouldn't quite put Leviathan Wakes in the realm of classic sci fi, but it's not far off and I already have the second book in the series high on my reading list.  It's definitely worth checking out for fans of space opera and good sci fi in general.

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