This is a new book, and at the time of this reading I don’t see any detailed plot summaries published, so I’ll include one here. The plot centers on an alien protomolecule that was apparently engineered and fired directly at Earth billions of years ago. Saturn intervened and it never made it. It was discovered and Protogen Security corporation took possession. After study, the owners realized that the protomolecule was designed to alter life for it’s own unknown purpose. The ship Julie Mao was on got accidently caught up in this and the protomolecule was released among the crew and hijackers, turning them into a single amorphous bio-mass. Julie escaped to Eros after venting the ship, killing the alien, but not before becoming infected herself. Holden and the rest of the crew of the ice hauler hear a distress signal and investigate. Holden, Naomi (comms), Amos (engineer), Shed (med) and Alex (pilot) take a shuttle to investigate the disabled ship (Julie’s ship) and while doing so the ice hauler is destroyed by a surprise attack from what appears to be a Martian vessel. Holden and crew escape and broadcast to the entire solar system the apparent Martian ambush of innocent Belters. Political tensions ratchet up. Miller is assigned a missing person case involving Julie and as a result connects with Holden and eventually tracks her to Eros. In an effort to quell tensions and investigate the situation, the Martian navy sends their flagship to rescue Holden and the surviving crew. While onboard the Martian flagship, it is attacked by several stealthy capital-ship busters and actually destroyed. Holden and crew (minus Shed) manage to escape with the aid of marines (who all die) which is how they acquire the Corvette.
The gradual infection of Eros becomes an experiment orchestrated and observed by Protogen on Thoth station. Eros itself becomes alive and moves on it own volition towards Earth by means unknown. Holden and Miller get involved in the effort to destroy Eros before it impacts and contaminates Earth. Miller in his quest to finally save Julie sacrifices himself to the protomolecule and convinces Julie (who, as patient zero is the seed of the new alien) to colonize Venus instead. Earth is saved, outright war between Earth, Mars and the Belt is averted, but an unknown alien has just setup shop on Venus.
Leviathan Wakes is billed as a “space-opera”. I generally take that to mean a grand cast of characters with hidden political agendas and actions that typically have far-reaching consequences. Leviathan doesn’t quite qualify in my opinion since there isn’t a lot of politics (more background noise), the cast of characters is small and their objectives are clear, though it does deliver on the consequences part. The fact that I don’t think it should be categorized as a space opera in no way diminished this book. I enjoyed it. It’s a fast read despite its nearly 600 pages. I found the pacing to be excellent, and many chapters concluded on a mini-cliffhanger. The book is also structured with a lot of chapters and scene changes so it works well for those times when you only have a few minutes to devote to it.
Leviathan is set in the not-too-distant future where humanity has colonized the solar system – Luna, Mars, the asteroid belt, Ceres, Titan, but not yet the stars. This makes the book stand out, but it’s certainly not unique in that respect (Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Gods Themselves, Rendezvous with Rama all similarly confine humanity to the solar system). Technology (Epstein drive) exists to traverse intra-solar distances in weeks and months, though it is often a very physical ordeal. The inconvenience of space travel is made very real in this book. Acceleration injuries, adapting to constant changes in micro-gravity, orbital mechanics add to the realism. The author(s) also build upon this atmosphere by describing the tunnels, smells, recycled air, poor food of the Belt colonies such as Ceres (which already has several million residents) and Eros. Space combat consists of little more than hurling mass at targets. For me, it was the atmosphere that I really enjoyed about this book.
The main characters consist of Holden, an Earther executive officer of an ice hauler who later becomes Captain of a Martian Corvette/Fast Attack Craft and Miller a Belter alcoholic detective on Ceres. The narrative alternates between these two for the duration of the novel. Holden is idealistic, naive but righteous and morally centered. This is what keeps what’s left of his crew with him after the ice hauler is destroyed in a surprise attack. Miller is opposite in many ways. Older, cynical, street smart with a morality to match. What I really liked about the way Miller was developed was the realization that he was the burnt out cop. After his divorce he fell into alcohol dependency and the fact that he was a functional alcoholic was quietly obvious to everyone except himself. There’s a point where he realizes he’s the guy given all the rookies or partners nobody else wants (the Earther) or assignments they don’t expect any resolution for (looking for Julie Mao). He’s the burnt out cop nobody trusts with anything important and eventually as political tensions rise, he’s fired from the only job he’s ever had. The only thing left to him is his obsession to conclude the mystery surrounding Julie Mao and eventually avenge her.
Holden’s crew of survivors remind me very much of Firefly with Holden having the same moral righteousness as Captain Malcolm Reynolds and Amos a perfect simile of Jayne. In fact the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) among the Belters could be the Browncoats. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress offered up similarities of its own, most notably the atmosphere. The filtered air, tunnels and caverns deep in the Moon, the microgravity are all portrayed also on Ceres and Eros. Also, Holden’s non-nuclear family with two fathers and three mothers is an echo of Mannie’s large multi-parent family on the Moon. I would be surprised to learn that Harsh Mistress wasn’t an influential book on Leviathan Wakes.
What would I change? Leviathan is a great book – the pacing is excellent, the atmosphere is terrific and the mystery of the alien protomolecule extends right beyond the end of the book. However, referring the the victims of the protomolecule as zombies does the book a disservice (Firefly called their equivalent Reavers). While clearly not the undead in the traditional sense, just making the association caused me to illicit a giant eyeroll.
(Amazon) Leviathan Wakes