I feel the need to apologize for the lateness of this post. I was sick all last week and to be honest the blog wasn’t on my mind.
This week I decided to do something a little different for my blog post. Rather than focusing on comics I decided to write a review of the first book in the Sci-Fi series The Expanse titled Leviathan Wakes.
The Expanse is now a hit show on the Space channel with season 3 coming early next year. I have not had the chance to watch the show yet as I wanted to finish at least the first 2 books before I dove in. From what I gather is that each season of the show deals with one of the books. The first season finale is called Leviathan Wakes which is the title of he first book, and the second season finale is called Caliban’s War which is the title of the second book. I have just started into the third book called Abbadon’s Gate which is what season 3 will cover.
Onto the book!
The setting of the series is this: Humanity has unlocked the key to near FTL travel, and as such, they have colonized most of the solar system. Earth and the UN are in control of Luna (the moon) while the Mars Coalition is an independent entity all on it’s own. At the beginning of the series Earth and Mars have an uneasy truce wherein hostilities have ceased but careful watch is being done by both sides. The UN navy is bigger but the Martian navy is better equipped and better weaponized. The “Belt” as it is referred to in the series is the collection of asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter that have been hollowed out and sealed for human habitation. Eros station is one of the major Belt colonies along with Ceres.
Because humanity have colonized the Solar System there is deep racial divide among those that grew up “Down the Gravity Well” with a standard 1 unit of gravity (1g), Earth and Mars, and those that grew up with artificial gravity as in the Belt and most of the major moons. Due to the low gravity the “Belters” as they are referred to in the series have elongated extremities and are quite a bit taller due to gravity never having compressed their spines. They also are forced to take mountains of muscle and bone density medications as children to ensure they are able to function and move properly as adults. In addition to their obvious different physical appearance the Belters have developed their own language and universal hand signals (like ASL) to communicate with each other, causing a great racial divide in the solar system. While experienced sailors can understand the language most are not able to and refuse to learn causing the divide to grow.
The plot of the first book revolves around 2 central characters. The first is James Holden XO of the Ice Hauler the Canterbury; the second is Josephus “Joe” Miller, detective of Ceres Station in the Belt.
When we start the book, Holden and his ship the Canterbury are on a return haul from one of the moons of Saturn hauling ice to be melted for water on Ceres. They stumble upon a ship broadcasting a distress beacon, the ship is called the Scopuli. Holden and a small away team head over to the derelict ship to see if they can help anyone left. Holden and his crew discover the ship deserted and view security footage of what transpired. After copying the security footage they decide to haul ass back to the Canterbury. An unknown ship appears out of the black of space and fires nuclear torpedoes on the Canterbury vaporizing it and everyone on board, then disappears.
Miller is a senior detective on Ceres Station who was discreetly tasked with finding and abducting Julie Mao, the daughter of a wealthy magnate Jules-Pierre Mao, and sending her back to her family on Luna. Miller quickly becomes embroiled in the events that stem from the death of the Canterbury and resulted in riots on Ceres Station.
When an unknown virus is released and causes death and mutations it becomes a race against time to discover where the virus came from, why it was made, and who is holding the fate of the solar system in their hands…
James Holden – Born in Montana on Earth. Grew up with 6 parents and was an only child (due to population restrictions on Earth). Served for several years in the UN Navy before being discharged and taking up a life of water hauling. He was romantically involved with the Comms officer on the Canterbury before it was destroyed, and is looking to find those responsible. Brash and quick thinking he often needs his crew to reign in some of his more outrageous ideas. Would die for any member of his crew if it came down to it.
Naomi Nagata – Chief Engineer of the Canterbury, Belter. Holden’s best friend since the destruction of the Canterbury, Holden appointed her his XO when his crew selected him as Captain. She is the voice of reason following the opening events of the book and refuses to carry a weapon on her person, as she thinks weapons should be a last resort and talking should be done first.
Alex Kamal – Ex Martian navy pilot, and very good at what he does. Likes to offer his two cents worth even if it’s not needed. Has a noticeable accent compared to the rest of the crew but doesn’t let his different upbringing stop him from socializing with the crew. Skilled in regular weapons training due to his work in the Martian navy.
Amos Burton – Engineer and lead mechanic under Naomi Nagata on the Canterbury. His past is a bit of a mystery but he is fiercely loyal to his crew and Naomi in particular. He is not opposed to violence but he does not seek it out, acts as the muscle for the crew when needed. He is extremely gifted with repairs and modifications and acts as the crews chief mechanic.
Shed Garvey – Enginner and part time medic on the Canterbury before its destruction. He likes to keep to himself and has anxiety over what happened to the Canterbury.
Josephus Miller – Senior Detective on Ceres Station working under the Star-Helix Security Company, assigned to the Homicide division. Recently divorced and borderline alcoholic. Has a network on contacts all across the Belt and is unhappy about being paired with the only Earth detective on Ceres. Assigned to find and return Julie Mao to her family regardless of how she feels about going back.
Dmitri Havelock – Earth detective partnered with Miller. Unaccustomed to the Belter lingo and culture, and it shows. He is shunned by the rest of the Belters on the force as well as the citizens of Ceres.
Julie Mao – Daughter of the Magnate Jules-Pierre Mao owner and CEO of the Mao-Kwikowski company. Ran away from home and opted for a life in the Belt, member of the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), a radical Belter group trying to seek their independence from Mars and Earth. Gifted racing pilot.
Fred Johnson – Former UN navy officer, nicknamed “The Butcher of Anderson Station”. Retired from the UN navy following the rebellion of Anderson Station and his quelling of said rebellion. Allied with the OPA and leader of Tycho Station.
WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD?
I will admit that I don’t really read that much Science Fiction. I have read the classic Dune and was forced to read The Chrysalids in high school, but most of the Sci-Fi that I’ve read is centered around the Halo Universe. That being said, this is one series that I am quite enjoying so far. I am only on the third book (with 4 and 5 on order), but it is a very compelling story. The character interactions and the subtle social politics and issues make it a great read.
One of the things that myself and a friend (who has been reading the series too) really like is that it is pre-FTL travel. Most of the Sci-Fi that you see on TV or read is set after humanity has unlocked the key of Faster Than Light Travel (FTL). Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Halo, Planet of the Apes, Dune, even Space Balls all occur after a “warp drive” or reactor of some kind has granted humanity the ability of inter stellar travel. In the Expanse there are engines that are referred to as Epstein Drives. These drives grant incredible speed but nowhere close to FTL. Even with these awesome drives it still takes months to go from Earth or Mars to the Belt and vice versa. Due to this, the books take a more grounded approach to space travel. I don’t want to say “realistic” but it is closer to the technology we have now making it more believable in my opinion.
I will say this though, Miller is my favourite character in the series and after him probably Amos. I just think that those two characters are the closest to what the average person is like with their thoughts and interactions than anyone else. Sure Holden is one of the main characters and he is great, but he always seems to be held back in his character development. It isn’t until the end of the second book that his character really develops from something different than it was in the first book.
Overall (again only being on book three of a 9 book series) I would rate this series to be an 8.5/10. There are obviously somethings that could be changed but I can’t say them without giving away the plot, that being said it is also written in the style of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), in that no two sequential chapters are about the same character.
I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys Science Fiction or even Fantasy like myself, give this series a read. It is a great series and I am very excited to continue with it through the end. I might even start watching the TV show and comparing them too.
See you next time!