Leviathan Wakes: The Start of The Expanse Series

Set in the near future, the story of Leviathan Wakes takes place all across the Milky Way galaxy. Humanity has colonized the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt and nearby planets but distant stars remain beyond technological plausibility. There is nothing new as far as the premise is concerned, but the novel can deliver a unique touch to the otherwise classic sci-fi backdrop.

Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes is authored by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Published in 2011 by Orbit Books, it is the first novel (of nine) in The Expanse series. It was a Hugo nominee for Best Novel in 2012, and the complete series was later nominated for the same award in the Best Series category in 2017. The Expanse finally won its well-deserved Hugo in 2020.

Power in the habitable galaxy is mainly divided into three factions: Earth under the UN (United Nations), Mars under the MCRN (Martian Congressional Republic Navy), and a militant blue-collar group known as the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) comprising marginalized workers who live in the Asteroid Belt. It is class warfare in which the “Belters” feel unfairly treated in the Solar System polity despite working hard to provide the two superpowers with essential natural resources; the “Inners” respond by branding the OPA a terrorist organization.

What makes Leviathan Wakes stand out from the crowd is its attention to detail. It might be hard sci-fi with all the expositions about the Coriolis effect, lateral acceleration, speed relative to gravity, and how the human body reacts to those unusual environments. The good thing is that the technical descriptions never get in the way of storytelling. If anything, the scientific explanations are seamlessly integrated into the plotline, becoming inseparable from the narrative. Most of the challenges presented are resolved by ingenuity rather than a set of conveniently available sci-fi inventions.

The scope is vast but still limited within the confined of the Milky Way galaxy. Humans have the Epstein Drive technology to travel between planets in the solar system. Although it is theoretically capable of travelling near the speed of light, there is not enough power to take humans beyond the Asteroid Belt. The plausibility of the premise allows Leviathan Wakes to avoid being a farfetched space opera. Instead of fantastically wandering to out-of-reach stars, the story focuses on a likely conflict during the early ages of space colonization. Narration is presented from a few perspectives as well, so it is easy to follow. Except for the opening scenes and the epilogue, much of the story is told from the third-person views of two characters: Detective Joe Miller (a Belter) and XO Jim Holden (Earther).

Joe Miller has a rough history as an old-school cop and is no stranger to making certain cases disappear anytime necessary. Now in his late 40s, Miller is a detective at Star Helix Security, rough around the edges, and usually drunk. Most people see him as a cold broken man. Miller has been tasked with finding and bringing home a girl who wants neither to be found nor come home. His co-conspirator, Jim Holden, is a former UN Navy soldier and the former executive officer of haulier ship Canterbury. Now that the ship has been destroyed by an unknown pirate ship, he takes charge onboard the light frigate Rocinante. Holden is very much of a righteous man and his ideals often lead to recklessness. The two have conflicting views on many things; every clash between them in a decision-making process always sets a good example of how certain moral values can be seen as right or wrong depending on the perspective.

Space Western

Given its various themes of space exploration, gunfights, racism, colonialism, and adventures, Leviathan Wakes doesn’t actually bring something new to the sci-fi genre. Combine them with a likeable main character of questionable background—Miller—and you get the classic formula of a Western or a space Western tale.

Miller’s investigative work to find the missing girl, Julie, leads to the discovery of an early hint that a recent battle possibly involving MCRN might be orchestrated by a third party. Julie is the daughter of a wealthy magnate who owns shares at Star Helix, the company where Miller works. He has a suspicion from the beginning that her disappearance might have something to do with the criminal power vacuum in Ceres. It is a political affair at first and remains as such for Holden, but for Miller, it turns into a personal mission to prove to the world that he once again can be a good cop.

The search for Julie ends up being intertwined with the intricacy of class warfare in the Solar System. It also turns out there is indeed a third party behind the attack on Canterbury. Large-scale sociopolitical affairs and smaller personal aspirations are both at stakes, drawn out in well-sketched misadventures of an unlikely duo.

While it is true the story is as fascinating as ever, we think the biggest selling point of Leviathan Wakes is the characterization. As the author gradually reveals their backgrounds, histories, and motivations, any reader cannot help but empathize, to feel like being one of them. The novel is as likeable as the characters simply because it is a lot of fun to follow Miller and Holden on their many misadventures to save the Solar System.

Have you read Leviathan Wakes? Have you also read the other novels in The Expanse series? We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know

What are the other books in The Expanse series?

There are 18 books including novels, short stories/novellas:

NovelsPublication Date
Leviathan WakesJune 15, 2011
Caliban’s WarJune 25, 2012
Abaddon’s GateJune 4, 2013
Cibola BurnJune 17, 2014
Nemesis GamesJune 2, 2015
Babylon’s AshesDecember 6, 2016
Persepolis RisingDecember 5, 2017
Tiamat’s WrathMarch 26, 2019
Leviathan FallsNovember 30, 2021
Short Stories and NovellasPublication Date
DriveNovember 27, 2012
The ChurnApril 29, 2014
The Butcher of Anderson StationOctober 17, 2011
The Last Flight of the CassandraMay 14, 2019
Gods of RiskSeptember 15, 2012
The Vital AbyssOctober 15, 2015
Strange DogsJuly 18, 2017
AuberonNovember 12, 2019
The Sins of Our FathersMarch 15, 2022

What are the other works by James Corey?

Some of the author’s most popular works (apart from The Expanse series) include:

  • Honor Among Thieves (2014)
  • A Man Without Honor (2013)
  • Silver and Scarlet (2014)
  • Rates of Change (2015)
  • The Hunger After You’re Fed, Wired (2016)

Has the novel been adapted to TV series?

Syfy originally aired The Expanse, based on a novel series of the same name by James Corey, for three seasons from December 2015 to April 2018. Amazon Prime Video acquired the series and added three more seasons aired from December 2019 to December 2021.

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