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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    SF Book of the Month August 2011: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

    This month's SF BotM is a recent publication: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.



    Rip-roaring Space Opera!

    Here's what Rob thought of it when he reviewed it for SFFWorld in May 2011:

    The solar system is populated by the expanding civilization of man, Mars is terraformed and “Belters” those humans who navigate the spaceways, form an underclass of sorts. A space ship has been destroyed and another space station is being quarantined, for lack of a better term and the daughter of a rich and powerful family has gone missing. Thus sets the stage for James S.A. Corey’s explosive Leviathan Wakes, a superb space opera that has just about everything a reader of space-based science fiction could want, hell a reader of entertaining literature could want.

    The driving characters in this novel are police detective Miller, and a ship’s captain Holden. Miller is working the case of the aforementioned missing young woman, which of course turns out to be more than simply a missing person’s case. Holden’s ship hauls ice across the solar system and when his ship, the Canterbury, is attacked, rash decisions lead to a potential galactic war between Earth, Mars, and the Belters. Holden’s actions lead he and his crew to cross paths with Miller as the far ranging conspiracy behind the missing girl and the attack on the Canterbury prove to have much in common.

    Corey (who everybody reading this review probably knows is the shared pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) pens and unabashed, fun, rollicking read in Leviathan Wakes. The influences seem to be unabashedly all over the map in this novel, everything from Firefly to the manga Planetes to recent characters from Green Lantern (the Red Lanterns, specifically). In addition to the SF influences / homages, Leviathan Wakes often feels like a noir/myster, with Detective Miller straddling that grey line in order to get to the heart of the mystery with which he becomes increasingly obsessed in ways that play with his mind. Miller could easily be part of a 30s detective film and conversely, Corey makes him fit in with this story just as well.

    Holden’s crew is very much a family and from my most recent reads, I was reminded of the crew of the Ketty Jay from Chris Wooding’s terrific Retribution Falls. I mentioned in my review of that book, the parallels I found with Firefly. The landscape in Leviathan Wakes, though confined ‘only’ to our solar system plays off both epic and personal, space after all is large, but the sense that all the characters have a comfortable level of knowledge of the solar system much like seasoned business travelers would have a good working knowledge of the United States. Part of what makes the solar system so believable is how the problems of big business seemingly controlling things from behind the scenes and the clash of societies mirrors today’s world, just on a larger canvas.

    Much like Abraham did in The Dragon’s Path, the narrative is told through a cycling of third-person POV characters, though here we only see the aforementioned Miller and Holden. Again, this style of storytelling makes sense considering Abraham is something of a protégé of George R.R. Martin and Franck is GRRM’s assistant, and this is by no means a negative thing. Martin does this better than any writer, so why not adopt a style that proved effective, unless you can’t pull it off. Fortunately for readers, this one specifically, Corey pulled it off very well.

    Leviathan Wakes is one of the best opening volumes to an SF series in recent memory, one of the most entertaining novels I’ve read in 2011 and a novel that only has me hungry for more in the series. This is a Space Opera I want to see more of on the shelves.

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    Discuss!

    Mark
    Mark

  2. #2
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    I've not started it yet, but all I can say is it's not a tiny book. 'tis huge!

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    Registered User beniowa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loerwyn View Post
    I've not started it yet, but all I can say is it's not a tiny book. 'tis huge!
    That's because it's printed with large font and formatting to make it bigger. It's probably closer to 300 pages in a more normal printing. A lot of publishers are doing that these days.

    I really liked this book and I'm looking forward to more. It's the kind of solar system space opera the genre has been missing lately. The only complaint I have is that I could tell which character each author was writing so it felt a little uneven sometimes.

  4. #4
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by beniowa View Post
    That's because it's printed with large font and formatting to make it bigger. It's probably closer to 300 pages in a more normal printing. A lot of publishers are doing that these days.
    I know, it's just like Abraham's latest (At least in terms of Orbit UK releases). Trade paperback size, massive print, fairly high quality pages. It's worth the extra bit of money just for the quality! Does make the book rather inconvenient to carry around, but I'm not working now so that's a non-issue for me.

    Really heard a lot of good things about this, so looking forward to getting my teeth into it.

    Edit: Just checked TBD. Their preorder for the MMPB release is said to be just shy of 600 pages long, whereas the TPB is about 560.
    Last edited by Loerwyn; July 31st, 2011 at 04:28 PM.

  5. #5
    Might give it another quick go actually too...

  6. #6
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Mine is on the way, as is the fantasy BOTM. Whichever gets here first, I read first. I'll be back.

  7. #7
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    I'm really surprised people like it so much. I've read Dragon Path and liked it, but this book I had bad feeling from start and dropped after ~50 (or may be it was 100) pages. IMHO Abraham just is not qualified to write SF. Good SF has a lot more strict requirements to world/environment consistency. First of all people who write about space should refresh high-school course of physics. Ships don't stop in space. Position make sense only in the context of delta of velocities. And so on. Tech descriptions, what I have seen were not consistent (no, I don't even want to go into it), but even worse was society. It is half cliche from 70s, half just poorly thought out. My overall impression - bad SF, no research at all and careless writing, author skill notwithstanding. Wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but especially to hard SF readers.

  8. #8
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Being devil's advocate then: is Leviathan Wakes an SF novel for those who don't think about the science too much?

    I'm tempted to say that from that perspective it is 'style over substance' with the substance being 'science'.

    Or am I being too simplistic/overgeneralising?

    Mark
    Mark

  9. #9
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    Being devil's advocate then: is Leviathan Wakes an SF novel for those who don't think about the science too much?

    I'm tempted to say that from that perspective it is 'style over substance' with the substance being 'science'.

    Or am I being too simplistic/overgeneralising?
    To be honest, I thought part of the 'appeal' of space opera is that it often takes liberties with our knowledge of science in order to tell a story.

    Surely a ship could actually stop in space? It'd be more of a hover, sure, but it could be stationary. You could balance the force on each axis (Newton's First Law) to halt motion. You won't drift to a stop, but you could theoretically use thrusters (Or other propulsion units) to negate drift velocities and so forth to have a stationary ship.

  10. #10
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    To be honest, I thought part of the 'appeal' of space opera is that it often takes liberties with our knowledge of science in order to tell a story.
    Good point: and adds to what I said earlier in that Leviathan for many (here at least!) seems to be a story where it's the plot not the science that's important, as you say, like the Space Opera of old.

    Are we also saying that for many readers the science doesn't matter? Is the book's strength that some readers can suspend their disbelief whilst reading it?

    Mark
    Mark

  11. #11
    Vanaeph Westsiyeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    Are we also saying that for many readers the science doesn't matter? Is the book's strength that some readers can suspend their disbelief whilst reading it?

    Mark
    I think so. As long as the book has a good storyline and holds my interest, the specifics of the science are secondary - which would be the case for Leviathan Wakes (though I know others would disagree!)

    The characters were interesting, the action didn't really let up, there were thriller and mystery elements, and the world building was good too. It was just a great read, and you didn't have to think too hard too often.

  12. #12
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    I don't think the science matters. We're talking far into the future, and if we look at our own scientific advancements in the past 50, 100, 200 years, nothing is impossible. We subvert the laws of nature with science, we transmit voices and pictures over the airwaves, we shape bits of silicon into extremely powerful and extremely versatile computers, and we never know where science is going to lead us next. If you're doing near-future things, then our level of science is going to be very important, but if you're looking 100+ years into the future, then you can afford to bend the laws of physics somewhat as we may find ways to counter them or even find that they're not as true as we thought.

    You don't need hard science in every science fiction book, because one possible interpretation of the genre title states exactly that. It can be fictional science as much as it can be fiction with a hard science backbone. Some of the greatest science fiction books of all time contain fictional scientific scenarios (Such as the creation of Adam, to use the name Shelley gave him 'unofficially', from Frankenstein), but we don't discount them nor put them down for it.

    Personally, I don't care too much if the science is dodgy. Chances are that I won't notice it, but if I do, I likely won't mind. If I can put up with "stores of magic" within a person in fantasy, I can put up with a bit of science-bending in sci-fi.

  13. #13
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loerwyn View Post
    Surely a ship could actually stop in space? It'd be more of a hover, sure, but it could be stationary. You could balance the force on each axis (Newton's First Law) to halt motion. You won't drift to a stop, but you could theoretically use thrusters (Or other propulsion units) to negate drift velocities and so forth to have a stationary ship.
    The problem here - stop relatively to what? which planet? Sun? Sun would be more "natural" choice form physics point of view but completely senseless from practical (or plot) POV

    Quote Originally Posted by Loerwyn View Post
    To be honest, I thought part of the 'appeal' of space opera is that it often takes liberties with our knowledge of science in order to tell a story.
    I'm not against liberties with science, I'm against internal inconsistency. It's like in the fantasy in the beginning of the fight hero is barechested, and in the next moment he is wearing full armor, without any explanation. With justification that it's a fantasy. And I seen such inconsistencies in Leviathan (space physics most glaring, but not a singular), and they prevent me from following plot. Even more jarring was the fact that all the politics, society, human hierarchy were seems phony to me. I now understand what make me drop the book - I had feeling I'm watching B-movie.

  14. #14
    Registered User JustaStaffer's Avatar
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    There's not a lot of science substance, that's for sure. I think the novel is more horror/noir than Science Fiction. It's Sci-Fi only in the fact it's set in space. I really liked it because of that...

    Sci-Fi can be the means and not the end. I think that's what Abraham and Franck are up to here.

  15. #15
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    Corey is going for something of an Old School Space Opera Vibe with the book and weren't aiming for Hard SF with this one.

    The noir element worked very well, I thought.

    Here's an interesting interview with them.

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