Orbit, 2011, 504 pages
Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach.
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
This is a good space opera that flirts with several genres. It's the work of two authors (James S.A. Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank) who took turns writing from the POVs of the two main characters. While for the most part, their styles and the storylines sync up well, the jumping back and forth and slightly uneven pacing are evidence of a book that could have been better with a firmer editor.
Set in an indeterminate not-near, not-far future - humanity has colonized the solar system, but not yet left it - the culture of the Expanse is one of asteroid miners (Belters), an assertive Mars becoming independent, and a wealthy but militarily disadvantaged Earth.
On Ceres, Detective Miller works corporate security - the closest thing this company town has to a cop - when he is put on the case of a missing rich girl, Julie Mao, whose parents want her back. Whether or not she wants to come back. Miller is the "SF Noir" character in this space opera. He hits all the noir notes - divorced, drinks too much, a has-been whose career is in the toilet, and he's become too bitter and jaded, and thus too violent, for everyone around him. But he becomes obsessed (one might even say, infatuated) with the mysterious Julie Mao, pursuing her long after he's no longer being paid to.
Captain Jim Holden is the XO of an ice miner that encounters a mysterious ship out in the beyond. This part of the story reads a bit like Firefly - Holden's crew is a merry band of semi-ethical mercenaries, but Holden himself is the moral center who repeatedly insists on doing whatever he thinks is right. In this case, after most of his crew dies and the mysterious ship turns out to be carrying some super-secret maybe-alien-thingy, Holden decides the right thing to do is broadcast everything to the entire solar system and get the truth out there. This very nearly starts the first interplanetary war. Oops.
When Miller and Holden's storylines intersect, we get the "SF horror" part of the book. Something is unleashed that becomes an existential threat to humanity, and the last part of the book is a race across the solar system with some seriously high stakes.
It took me a while to really get into this book. It's a little uneven, and some of the characterization was flat. However, the ending, if rather cinematic (and derivative of everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the much superior Ship of Fools) was epic and makes me wonder if that's a thread that will be picked up later. I liked Leviathan Wakes enough to want to read the next book in the Expanse series.
Verdict: Leviathan Wakes is an epic space opera crafted in the old-school tradition, with bits of detective noir and Gigeresque SF horror blended in. It takes a while to get going, and the dual-authored, dual-POV writing makes it not quite a seamless story, but this first book in a series will appeal to any fans of classic SF.
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