Summer Reading: “Leviathan Wakes”

The first book of the forthcoming Expanse series blends old-school Space Opera, current SF trends, and Summer Blockbuster characters and plotting. In short, it may be best thought of as SF Summer Reading.

Title: Leviathan Wakes
Author: James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)
ISBN: 9780316129084, 0316129089
First published: June 2011

Available from, and


A wealthy family hires a washed-out detective to locate their rebellious daughter. Meanwhile, a small spaceship working out on the fringe encounters a mystery that leads to war in the solar system. All stories converge on a mysterious alien artifact.

High Point:

The book has, for the most part, a fast-paced storyline written in highly readable prose. If it lacks the thoughtfulness and wonder of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, which has a similar setting, the writers know how to keep the story moving. They also do a good job of setting up for the sequel without leaving readers feeling like they’ve read a prequel. Too often, trilogies/series in the works fail on this point.

Low Points:

The plot is mostly predictable, and…. Well, skip ahead a couple of lines to “Originality.”

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 We have the colonized solar system—and, unfortunately, I read this book immediately after 2312, which handles that setting with greater gravity. The main characters are developed versions of the Hardboiled detective and the on-the-edge but ultimately moral space captain. We have space wars and evil corporate manipulation centering on an Alien Artifact of Unspeakable Power. The fate of the humanity rests in the hands of a plucky, rag-tag band of rebels with a cool ship. At one point, an attack against a larger opponent works because they don’t consider smaller ships a threat. Our writers do some interesting things with the story, but at heart it rehashes devices and characters familiar to anyone who has read, watched, or video-gamed SF.

Imagery: 4/6 The book does best when describing the workaday world of the colonies and the horrors unleashed by the central MacGuffin. The broader world feels very contemporary, however. Despite the political divisions among the different groups (Earth, Mars, Asteroid-dwellers), people and routines feel remarkably unaffected at any deeper level by the setting. Compared with the best contemporary SF and Fantasy, this world seems very Hollywood.

Story: 5/6 Leviathan Wakes features a fast-paced plot that captures the essence of old-fashioned space opera and the Summer Blockbuster in an updated setting.

Characterization: 4/6 The main characters (Miller in particular) feel developed, if clichéd. The lesser characters have at most two dimensions.

Emotional Response: 4/6 The basic story, shortened significantly, would adapt well to the screen.

Editing: 4/6 The final quarter lags a bit—and you will likely see where the ending is going before it arrives there.

Overall score: 5/6

In total, Leviathan Wakes receives 27/42

Next Week

Alex will review the second volume of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s The Unwritten, Volume One: Inside Man