Sunday, 20 December 2015

Book Review: "Leviathan Wakes" by James SA Corey

When I first came across Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey, it was sitting proudly on a bookshelf in Chapters with its grand cover showing off. I decided I just HAD to read it. Eventually.

Cut to last month when I saw a preview for the currently airing TV adaptation of it. There was only a month before the show's premier so I quickly bought and finished the novel. I've yet to see the TV series so I will only talk about the book.

James SA Corey is actually a psydoneum for two different writers, one a fantasy novelist, the other an ex-game developer. Or something like that. Anyways, I've never read anything else by these two guys other than Leviathan. And they really hit a homerun with this. It's thrilling, has cool, fully formed environments, and great characters that we learn to care more and more about throughout the novel.

I was really surprised by Leviathan Wakes. I was expecting writing on par with an author like Iain M. Banks, for example. As much as I have enjoyed the Iain Banks novels I have read, I don't consider them energetic thrillers. Banks' writing is very deep and descriptive. He takes his time painting pictures with his prose and building characters right down to the pores on their skin. I enjoy this, but in a different way that I enjoy a novel like Leviathan Wakes. 

I admire Leviathan Wakes because it is thrilling from start to finish. The authors write in a way that effectively builds worlds like Banks, while at the same time keeping the reader consistently excited with their fastpaced and quick prose. It's not exactly sparse writing. Just clear and refreshing. The structure is similar to what GRR Martin has done with his Song of Ice And Fire series, where each chapter follows only one of the POV characters. This is a great tool for the authors to develop the characters in a way the really gets the reader to' care for them.

There are two main POV characters in Leviathan Wakes. There is James Holden, an officer on an outer planets ice freighter left in charger after his ship is destroyed by an apparent Mars ship. And then there's Detective Miller, who at the beginning of this tale is tasked with finding an Earth runaway named Julie Mao. Their stories come together as they end up involved in the conspiracy of a corporation with a lethal alien weapon as war breaks out on inner and outer planets.

Sounds like a great idea for a series, eh? And this is only the first book in an ongoing series. I love the world because it's not a future where humanity has conquered the vast reaches of space. No, this version of humanity is at the time of these events limited to our solar system. That's different because one usually expects a universe that has been conquered in these types of novels.

I have an opinion that some science-fiction writers ands fans may find offensive. Kind of. I'm referring to those who insist that science-fiction is "real" literature like and that books like those of Banks and M. John Harrison should be eligible for the same awards that authors like Ian McEwan are considered for. I'm not arguing that. Iain M. Banks is the perfect example of an SF writer whose genre fiction feels just as "literary" as any Booker nominee. But not all genre fiction is like that, and these sensitive fans shouldn't be embarrassed. Maybe I'm over thinking this, but there are those who feel this way.

I'm referring of course to my opinion that Leviathan Wakes is not "literary" sci-fi like those two popular authors I mentioned above. I should probably state that it's more of a fact but for now it's my opinion.

What may be more controversial (maybe) is the fact that while reading James SA Corey's Space Opera I was periodically reminded of Michael Crichton. Now, obviously Michael Crichton is the type of writer who panders mainly to the blockbuster fiction crows. You know, airport novels. Reading a Crichton novel is like watching a blockbuster thriller. And that's why I love his writing. He knows exactly how to write a successful pageturner.

I bring this up not only because it went through my head while reading Leviathan Wakes, but because it's a good point of comparison. Iain M. Banks writes literary science-fiction, while the duo known as James SA Corey writes escapist thriller science-fiction (or blockbuster SF, but certainly not airport fiction).

Another reason I bring this up is as a way to defend Crichton, who I feel doesn't get enough recognition from the science-fiction community. He doesn't just write "pure entertainment" like many say. He writes great science based plots. And like James SA Corey, they also happen to be entertaining as hell.

So if you haven't already read Leviathan Wakes, I highly recommend doing so. I personally loved it and look forward to continuing onto the many sequels. I've heard it describe as "Game of Thrones" in space. I disagree, because unlike those books, Leviathan Wakes is relentlessly enjoyable without dragging at any point. Enjoy.

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