George R.R. Martin call this a “kick-ass space opera”, and I have to agree.
Leviathan Wakes started out as a 5 star novel for me, but then became 4 by the end. More on that later.
It takes place relatively recently after humanity became a space-faring species, where we’ve only expanded to the planets and asteroids in our own solar system.
The little details are what completed this fantastic experience for me—everything from the technology to the culture to how our perceptions change once we start exploring space. It felt as if I had stepped into the future, so convincing was the portrayal of what humanity’s extra-terrestrial expansion could look like.
How does your body change if you’ve grown up in an environment where the gravity is a fraction of that found on Earth? How do we deal with food and recycling materials? How does your body cope with the extra g’s of accelerating in space? What kind of tensions play out between the “inner planets” and Belt (of asteroids)?
It’s that last question that intrigued me the most. For the first half of the book (which was the better half, in my opinion), the author shows us just how much conflict can occur between humans, and it was a refreshing to read a sci-fi novel that felt 100% science fiction without any aliens present.
The POV switching consistently between our two protagonists added a nice sense of rhythm and expectation. They were also excellent foils for each other and coordinated beautifully on the page. I loved that the majority of the prose is set in dialogue rather than exposition, so we are offered an excellent chance to connect with the characters.
Now, why I only gave it 4 stars:
As I mentioned, the conflict between humans for the first half of the book was phenomenal. We’ve always managed to tear each other apart here on Earth, what’s to stop us from doing the same once we get in space? Suddenly it won’t be nations duking it out, but planets and alliances. The scale has changed, but human nature has not.
Then all of a sudden some random stuff about an alien virus is thrown in. Is that really what the story was about all along? Boo. I got really intrigued, before it felt contrived and all fell apart. Come to think of it, there were a few plot twists that worked, but still had me scratching my head as they came seemingly out of the blue and introduced something new to the story.
On top of that, the writing wasn’t anything special. It did it’s job fine, sure, but it never wow’d me or stirred me emotionally. At least not in the way of some writers like Patrick Rothfuss, Guy Gavriel Kay, Robin Hobb, or Steven Erikson.
But, I don’t want to leave you on that note. This was an incredibly enjoyable novel—I ripped through it in under three days. If you like sci-fi or space even a teensy bit, go ahead: indulge, and get lost in this space opera. Just don’t blame me when you have to float back down to Earth and the confines of gravity.
Now the only thing left for me to do is to figure out a way to be cryogenically frozen until we actually do settle somewhere else in the solar system…