Page Turners

Leviathan Wakes and Human Nature



Last year I decided to primarily focus on reading new novels, trying to keep up with the popular novels that were defining modern literature. And, I read a lot of really interesting stuff. But, I also found myself occasionally feeling a little like I was stuck doing homework, trying to expand my horizons rather than just reading for fun. Which, isn’t necessarily bad, it’s good to try new things, and sometimes that led to me discovering some really great stories. But, I also recognized the fact that I occasionally need to give into my baser interests in novels, and just embrace the big old dork that I am. So, I feel like for a while I’m going to really lean into some nerdy sci-fi and fantasy, just giving myself a quick little refresher on the genres that first made me the voracious reader that I am now. Which meant that I’ve been on the prowl for some solid books that fall into these categories, and ended up finding one in a somewhat unlikely place. I actually was on the hunt for a new tv show to get into recently, and had several people recommend the sci-fi series the Expanse to me. I watched the first two episodes, felt myself really getting into it, and discovered that it was actually an adaptation of a wildly popular book series. So, because I’m a little crazy, I decided to hit pause on the show, and figured that I would read the first novel before continuing on with the series, just to get a better appreciation for the show. And, while I have no idea what that’s going to do to my viewing of the show whenever I get back into it, I am glad to say that I’ve found a new series that I will be returning to, because Leviathan Wakes is a hell of a good read.

The novel takes place in the not-too distant future where humanity has reached into space, but outside the solar system. Human beings now inhabit Earth, Mars, the asteroid belt, and a variety of smaller colonies on other moons and hunks of rock throughout the solar system. There seems to be a fairly functioning society going on, with Earth and Mars in a constant Cold War for superiority, while the people living in the Belt are largely exploited for their resources. And, aboard one of the largest colonies in the Belt, a station known as Ceres, a Belt-born and raised detective named Joe Miller has been given a fairly innocuous case. There’s a missing woman somewhere on the colony, Julie Mao, and her parents want her sent back to Earth. Miller begins investigating Julie’s disappearance, and quickly starts to piece together that she’s connected with a semi-extremist group of people trying to gain independence from the influence of Earth and Mars known as the OPA. But, Miller’s investigation gets a little less important when something extreme happens out in the middle of space. Because an unimportant mining ship finds itself the most important vessel in the solar system when it’s attacked by a mysterious ship, everyone aboard killed but a handful of crew members who were in a smaller ship at the time. The leader of the survivors, a man named Jim Holden, has his crew investigate and finds evidence that the Martian military was the one to kill his friends. So, he broadcasts that information, and immediately throws the solar system into a state of war.

Holden and his crew find themselves drifting through several terrible situations, getting picked up by the Martian Navy before being attacked by people seemingly from the OPA, only to find that Earth may have bee involved as well. Nothing is making sense, but they find themselves pushed along the path towards another Belt colony known as Eros. Which, just so happens to be where Miller’s trail has led him too. The two groups meet up after finding the bizarre corpse of Julie Mao, seemingly mutated in a way that doesn’t make sense to any of them. And, working together, the group end up discovering a vast conspiracy going on all throughout the solar system. It turns out that a powerful Earth corporation known as Protogen has discovered a molecule from an unknown alien civilization which they think could be used to evolve humanity to reach outside the solar system. And, they’ve been enacting illegal human test, which has resulted in quite a bit of death, as is evidenced by them taking over Eros and killing everyone on the station, mutating them in the process. Miller, Holden, and the rest of the crew begin working with the OPA, and eventually the entirety of the solar system as more and more of Protogen’s crimes come to light, and it becomes clear that Eros and the alien molecules need to be destroyed. Unfortunately, after a plan to send Eros plummeting into the sun fails when it becomes clear that the molecule has gained sentience and control over the entirety of Eros, a compromise is made. Eros is sent to Venus, where the alien molecule is given an entire work to terraform to its liking, while the rest of the solar system is forced to find a way to cohabitate with a new intelligence, and themselves.

Like I said up top, I went into this novel after watching the first two episodes of the show, which was enough to get me interested in the world, but not enough to really build any real understanding of what it actually was about. The general gist I got was that the story at that point was half a sci-fi noir with a detective solving a complicated missing persons case on a space station, and half a story about a bunch of oddballs getting thrust into a bizarre conspiracy. And, both of those ideas are very much up my alley, and I was thrilled to find that this novel indeed tackled these ideas, while branching off into something that was constantly keeping me guessing. The story takes a litany of twists and turns, zipping across the solar system and the fascinating world that James SA Corey has built for us, all while slowly but surely crafting an ominous a terrifying march towards destruction. We have a group of really fun and likeable characters, a fascinating and fleshed out world, and a plot that seems to accurately assume that even when we reach beyond the grasp of this planet, humanity will still be doomed to its worst tendencies. Because the idea that a powerful corporation would find proof of alien life, and use it recklessly to enrich itself at the expense of the rest of humanity is just so painfully spot on. We see a world that has reached for the stars, and instead of transcending idiotic human flaws they’ve just been magnified, ready to create interplanetary war at the drop of the hat, just because of newly invented prejudices and greed. Which, is probably pretty damn accurate. Humanity will always find a way to trip itself on the race towards progress, and I don’t know if there’s any way to get around that.


Leviathan Wakes was written by James S.A. Corey, 2011.

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