Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Orbit Books, 2011
Cover Art by Daniel Dociu

The first real science fiction I ever read was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. I read it when I was in 3rd grade. It remains one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It single-handedly awoke my passion for science fiction. It inspired my ongoing fascination with science—particularly cutting-edge theoretical cosmology.

More than that: Foundation (along with Star Wars) taught me that human imagination doesn’t need to be limited to only the world we know. Our dreams and stories can encompass the Universe and beyond, aliens and environments vastly different from us and ours.

While reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I kept flashing back to my experiences with Asimov in 3rd grade. I kept recalling what it was like to have my mind opened by Asimov’s stories.

On the surface, this comparison doesn’t make much sense. The Expanse series has really nothing in common with the Foundation series: plot, conflict, characters, tone, structure—there are essentially no similarities. Foundation helped to invent the genre and remains a cornerstone. Asimov created ideas and tropes that remain essential to SF today.

I don’t see a single original idea in Leviathan Wakes. Everything about it derives from preexisting genre concepts: the setting, the threat, the conflict, the politics and socio-cultural aspects. These are all ideas that have been explored by myriad authors before this.

While nothing in this novel is terribly original, the way it combines ideas makes it unique. This is space opera in the grandest sense, but it’s also military SF, an alien invasion story, and detective noir, with a dash of monster story thrown in. It all works seamlessly and the combination generates a tremendously compelling story. It’s rare for to see so many different flavors of SF blended so effectively.

Yet for all its lack of originality, Leviathan Wakes excites me as much as Foundation did. It resonates with me as deeply as Asimov’s work. If I didn’t love SF already, I’m certain that Corey’s novel would have the same mind-expanding effect on me that Foundation had. It makes me passionate for science fiction all over again.

I believe that artists in any field strive in one of two directions:

There are those who push outward, expanding the boundaries of their art, generating new ideas, breaking through the limits and bringing their work into heretofore unexplored territory. These are the artists who redefine their art.

Then there are those artists who turn inward, who delve into the heart of their art as it is, as it has been, exploring known territory ever-more deeply, artists who examine every existing nuance and detail. These are the artists who seek to perfect their art and create the most masterful expressions of it.

There are those who blaze new trails, and those who perfect existing trails. Foundation blazed—Leviathan Wakes perfects.

Foundation defined science fiction by helping to invent it. Leviathan Wakes defines science fiction by showing us what it is.

This is a nearly perfect work, a masterful expression of the genre. This is essential reading.

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