Wednesday, 6 July 2011

‘Leviathan Wakes’ – James S.A. Corey (Orbit Books)

Now I’m not saying that Daniel Abraham is K.J Parker (clearly Margaret Atwood writing under a pseudonym so she doesn’t have to keep denying that she writes speculative fiction...) but when you look at his output you can’t help thinking to yourself that he could be. After all, the man clearly has form for writing under assumed names. If Daniel Abraham is writing fantasy then he’s quite happy to remain Daniel Abraham. If there’s an Urban Fantasy novel to be written though, Abraham will take on the guise of M.L. Hanover and get writing. Along with Ty Franck (George R.R. Martin’s assistant), Abraham has now branched off into the realms of science fiction; this time writing as James S.A. Corey.

For me, this raised a few questions straight away. Firstly, does Ty Franck actually exist or is he another example of Abraham trying to hide his real identity? Think about it, we’re dealing with a guy who writes under more than one pseudonym here. Secondly, does Daniel Abraham even know his own name anymore? If you see Daniel looking a little confused then this could be the problem. Walk over and remind him ;o)
Most importantly though, Daniel’s prior works of fantasy have been talked up by people who know all about these sorts of things. Would his first sci-fi novel hit those same giddy heights? And what about Ty Franck (if he exists...)? How would Ty and Daniel’s work come together and what would the finished book look like?
Keep reading and you’ll see just what I thought. I’ll give you a little clue in the meantime though, ‘bring on book two’...

It’s the future and while mankind has colonised the solar system, the stars still remain tantalisingly out of reach.
For Jim Holden though, dreaming about the stars has to take second place to the far more pressing concerns that are occupying his time. Holden was an officer serving on board the ice miner ‘Canterbury’ until it was destroyed by an unknown craft whilst investigating a distress signal. Jim, and several others, escaped this fate by being in another craft at the time, now all Jim wants is justice for his dead friends and to head off the trouble that is brewing in the system. Is this possible though? Jim and his crew are reluctantly carrying a secret that has placed them in mortal danger and everything that Jim tries to do, to solve this, is pushing the galaxy closer to open warfare.
In the meantime, half a galaxy away, Detective Miller is looking for a missing girl. A girl who crewed on the very ship that drew the ‘Canterbury’ to its death. Miller and Holden are on a collision course and when they meet, they’ll find a wide ranging conspiracy that must be unravelled if the two largest population centres in the solar system want to avoid having dirty great asteroids dropped on them...

 If you’ve been around these parts for a while, you’ll know that ‘Hard Sci-Fi’ and I really don’t get on all that well. We want to be friends but I can’t get my head around ‘Hard Sci-Fi’ concepts and ‘Hard Sci-Fi’ doesn’t have the time to wait for me to catch up. Space Opera though? That’s a whole different deal. What’s not to love about a sub-genre that just wants to tell a story where the stakes are high, guns are fired repeatedly and evil villains are pursued throughout the solar system? Not only is ‘Leviathan Wakes’ Space Opera in the best possible way but it then proceeds to step things up another notch. The end result is something not far off essential reading, yet another series where I’ve found myself in for the long haul.

Abraham and Franck make for a very effective writing team, not just as far as the story itself is concerned (more on that in a minute) but in the way that is all presented. Whenever two writers collaborate on a project I’m always interested to see how two potentially very different writing styles fit on the same page. This time round, you can’t see a ‘join’ (where Abraham takes a break and Franck takes over) at all. If the book didn’t tell you that two writers were involved you certainly wouldn’t think that this was the case by reading it. I don’t know how the mechanics of the whole process really worked but I love the end result; a book that takes attention away from the writers and leaves the reader with what really matters, the story.

The story itself is, for the most part, a tightly reined in and sharply focussed affair where the death of the ‘Canterbury’ serves to throw the reader headlong into a mass of conspiracies, cover ups and political intrigue between two planetary superpowers. Everything starts to make sense as you are gradually shown the bigger picture and ‘Leviathan Wakes’ also isn’t afraid to give you a recap every now and then; a good thing in a book this size. It’s all done very neatly though and isn’t an info dump at all.
I did say ‘for the most part’ though. ‘Leviathan Wakes’ sets the scene very well in terms of establishing the political climate as well as the end results of the solar system’s colonisation. A lot of thought has clearly gone into this and it shows in the best possible way. I couldn’t help but feel though that Abraham and Franck were perhaps having a little too much fun in the setting and didn’t really want to leave at times. You can’t really blame them but this did mean that some of the more descriptive passages dragged on when they really shouldn’t have and the flow of the book slowed to more of a trickle...

This balances out though when the action kicks in and the bullets start flying. ‘Leviathan Wakes’ has it all and I defy you to come away from this book empty handed when I’m talking about things like the death of a battle cruiser, alien infestations on a space station and gunfights in seedy space port hotels. These sequences are explosive to say the least and send the reader flying into the next round of intrigue and counter intrigue.

Everything is seen through the perspective of Holden and Miller (apart from the epilogue) and this serves to give the reader a wider view of events than you would perhaps expect. I mean, we’re talking about just two people here, how much can they seriously be expected to see? Quite a lot as it happens and you end up with a real feel for just how much is going on in the plot.
What was more interesting to me though is the way that two fairly one dimensional characters bounce off each other and force each other to grow and develop as individuals. Holden ends up seeing that things aren’t just black and white (as well as what doing the ‘right thing’ can really mean) while Miller discovers a sense of family that he never even knew he missed.
Not only does Holden’s passages add a real sense of ambiguity to the proceedings but the overall approach really fleshes these characters out and you’re left with the impression that the events of ‘Leviathan Wakes’ had a really profound affect on the pair of them.

‘Leviathan Wakes’ may have a habit of slacking off the pace, at just the wrong moments, but if you’re anything like me then you’ll find this an easy obstacle to overcome. If you read one science fiction novel this year I’d seriously consider making it this one. Essential space opera reading that bodes very well for future books in the series.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


Mandorallen said...

Ty Franks is George R R Martins assistant as well as one of the writers responsible for Leviathan Wakes. I don't believe that he's using a pseudonym, but i suppose it might not be his real name.

I couldn't tell if you were joking, or really didn't know who Ty Frank was. If you were joking then srry.

George R R Martin did a blog about it a while back.

Spaz said...

This is sitting on my shelf and will likely be my next read after finishing RETRIBUTION FALLS.

Elfy said...

I may have to give this one a look. As far as I know, Ty is a real person. George Martin has even posted pictures of him on his blog. Either that or Abraham doubles as George's assistant.

Erik Lundqvist said...

I really liked this book. Mostly because of the action and Detective Miller, which I thought was a much strong character than Holden. That was my biggest problem with the book and why I in my review did not give it my highest grade.

What did you think of Miller and Holden, and how they compare?

Graeme Flory said...

I was totally joking about Ty being another pseudonym of Abraham's :o) It was a long day yesterday and my mind kind of ran away from me at that point...

Erik - I'd agree with you in that there's a lot more to Miller's character than there is to Holden's. Having said that though, this gave Holden a lot more room to develop/grow and this really made the difference for me by the end.

Mark Lawrence said...

Been a fan of the cover since I first saw it an age ago! Glad to hear the contents live up to the promise.