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"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."
- Anna Quindlen

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

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1) - James S.A. Corey

"As close as you'll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form." -io9.com


Welp, if I had seen that quote before reading the book, I never would have picked it up.  Never in the history of literature has there been a halfway decent novel that could be described as a "Hollywood blockbuster in book form".  Nope.  Never.


And had I known that "James S.A. Corey" is a pseudonym for two co-writers, I also would have steered clear.  I suppose it's possible for a cowritten book to not be a stinking pile of poo, but I have not yet read one.


The glowing praise on the cover from none other than G.R.R. Martin was persuasive at first (a "kickass space opera," he says!  Who am I to question the great George R.R.?), until I discovered that one of the authors is Martin's assistant.  Blergh, nepotism.


And of course, had I known this was a trilogy, I would have... well, you get the idea.  Why does every piece of shit have to be a trilogy these days?  Can't you just write a single, standalone piece of shit once in awhile?  At no point during my slog through this nearly 600-page novel did I ever say to myself: "boy, I sure wish there were three of these!"


So yeah.  I didn't like this one.


The main problem is that it's just straight-up dull.  I used to have a whole shelf for this kind of thing: "vast space operas of boringness".  They're all basically the same: shoddy, repetitive writing; a massive cast of faceless characters; a fawning obsession with detailing every nuance of spaceship mechanics as if anyone gives a shit; a whole lot of "pew pew pew"; and a plot strung together by some ominous macguffin with a thoroughly predictable achilles heel (cf. the exhaust ports on the Death Star).  Kaplow!  Kazaam!  Hooray we saved the galaxy!


The two main characters here are these dudes Holden and Miller.  One's an idealistic spaceship captain with a crew that's trying very hard to be the cast of Firefly, but without any wit or charm.  The other's a grumpy space detective, a drunken sad-sack who's just stumbled blearily out of the most by-the-numbers noir film ever made.  You'd think these two characters would be pretty distinct, easy to tell apart, but I was constantly getting them confused.  And if I can't even keep the two POV characters straight in my head, all of the side characters are basically a lost cause.  I filed them away by their most salient attributes: "the dead chick", "the living chick", "the one who's trying to be Jayne Cobb", "the Indian with a Texas accent"...  Nope, didn't help. They all blurred together in my head.


And the plot, while it had its moments of interest, was mostly a whole lot of getting character set A to rendezvous point B so plot point C could occur, rinse and repeat.  The premise was kind of intriguing, I'll admit: a massive projectile fired at the Earth in the ancient past by beings unknown, filled with microbes designed to transfigure all life into something mutant and terrible, but which instead had been accidentally caught up in Saturn's gravity -- only to be discovered by some corporate assholes in the space age who turn it into a bioweapon they can't even comprehend....


I mean, it sounds cool.


But it's not.  For every moderately awesome, scary, or interesting thing that happens there are at least 75 pages of monotony and repetition.  A fun drinking game (I mean, for certain values of "fun") might be to take a shot every time the text mentions the humming sound of the "air scrubbers" in a space ship or station.  You'll be flat-on-the-floor plastered in half a chapter.


And once - just ONCE - I would like to read a trashy space adventure with a two-dimensional antagonist.  I know that asking for a three-dimensional enemy, with realistic depth and complex motivations, would be far too much to ask.  But seriously, can we not have an adversary who, say, murders an entire space station full of people just for shits & giggles and to see what would happen?  The evil corporation in this book just makes no fucking sense.  Their justification for killing hundreds of thousands and starting a massive space war is basically, "but maybe this destructo-microbe we found will help us become post-human or something, I don't know, murdering is fun."


There's a fine line between mindless pulpy entertainment and mindless pulpy shittiness, and this book falls pretty far on the wrong side of it.  It's not completely without merit - it's readable and it moves quickly, and every now and then there'd be a sparky plot point that got my mind-wheels turning.  But if this is a Hollywood blockbuster in novel form, it's one shit-ass boring movie.


(2014 #8)