Leviathan Wakes is the first in a series of books collectively known as The Expanse. These NYT Best-sellers were written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S. A. Corey. The story takes place in the near-distant future, hundreds of years from now when we’ve colonized the solar system thanks to the Epstein drive.
The book focuses mainly on two characters. The first is Jim Holden, the XO of an ice freighter called the Canterbury. The second is Joseph Miller, a detective on a case to find a missing girl by the name of Julie Mao. As we follow these two characters, the world of Leviathan Wakes is revealed to us little by little, introducing us to a rich and detailed vision of the future. Set within the backdrop of a great conspiracy and the rising tensions between Earth, Mars & the Belt, the book gradually becomes an epic tale of political intrigue, camaraderie, and war.
There are several things that I found interesting about the book. For one, I liked how human expansionism was treated in the story. Leviathan Wakes takes on a more gritty approach to the idea of colonies in space based on what we know from hundreds of years of colonialism. When British pioneers looking for greener pastures sailed to the new world, it wasn’t long before they were seeking independence from their mother country. We know that colonies in South America belonging to the Spanish also began declaring their independence shortly after. It seems settlers crossing vast distances will eventually break off from their land of origin and develop their own society; their own culture. This is something that the book takes into account, using it under a Sci-Fi setting. Not all of the colonies in the future belong to Earth. They’re not all one big happy family under a Federation.
A hundred years or so prior to the main events of the book, Mars declared its independence from mother Earth and became its own nation. Because they have put so much emphasis on funding their military, Martian warships are decades more advanced than anything Earth has produced and better designed in every regard. Although Earth still outnumbers them in terms of boots on the ground and ships in the sky, the Martian navy will often win in one-on-one battles. By the time we’re introduced to them in Leviathan Wakes, Mars is a solar system superpower, clashing heads over many conflicts of interest with Earth and on the brink of war.
And then there’s the Belt.
The Belt is not a nation but an amalgam of people living out in small pockets across the system, mostly in space stations, moons and asteroids. Belters are dependent on supplies coming in to their respective settlements by freighters and other transport ships. If one shipment of food is late, a lot of people might starve, or if an ice hauler like the Canterbury accidentally loses its cargo, it might mean rationing their water for several months. It is this lifestyle that has made them tough and resilient.
Sadly, Belters are often mistreated and oppressed (being the worker-class of the system), even when they provide the majority of the goods that Earth and Mars enjoy. Over the span of several generations, Belters have developed their own language, known as Belter creole, which is a mix of several languages (Chinese, Slavic, German, Hindi, Bantu and Spanish). This language is not understood by neither Earthers or Martians. Belters are also physically different from those born in gravity wells. Their bodies have adapted to the conditions of low-G by becoming thinner and taller. This makes some of the inner planet elite see them as strange or regard them as freaks and second-class citizens, while other more racist circles don’t even consider them human anymore.
This is the future that Leviathan Wakes envisions. A space-faring human civilization fragmented into many almost-tribal factions, each one different from the other thanks to their distance and/or technology.
The science in the book is well-founded and pragmatic. Most of it is based on actual physics and consistent with things that might be entirely possible to do. Take, for instance, a highly efficient fusion drive. We’re actually experimenting with fusion reactors right now. Some say that we’ll have fusion power by 2030. And there are small start-ups getting ready to be the next Space-X but for fusion energy. So it’s not that farfetched to believe that one day spaceships could run on that kind of power. And who knows? Maybe someone will come along and invent something like the Epstein Drive and give us a way to travel to the Jovian planets in record time.
Another thing that made the book a page-turner for me were the ship-to-ship battles in space. The way ships fight in the Expanse also adhere to the laws of physics, making the action all the more visceral. High-G maneuvers, heat-seeking torpedoes and railguns shooting tungsten rounds make for great combat scenes. Yeah, things get pretty intense. So if you’re wanting action, this is your kind of book. Add to that the fact that there’s a conspiracy and also a possible alien threat behind the scenes, and bam—you have yourself a kick-ass space opera.
The Expanse is now available to watch as an Amazon Prime Original series. So if you’re interested, you can watch all three seasons on their website. The fourth season will be premiering soon in December 2019.
I leave you guys with a not so spoilery trailer: