Now Reading "Leviathan Wakes" by James S.A. Corey, And It's Badass
The pull-quote on the front of the book, by George R.R. Martin, says "Interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written," and I'm damned sure having a hard time debating that. So far, I love this book. It's taught, well-written, and suspenseful. It's got great world-building, and the characters really crackle. I love the dialogue, too. And, it's great hard sci-fi; it's set in a world where Mars and the asteroid belt — not to mention a lot of the moons of the outer planets — have been colonized, but where the stars are still, sadly, out of reach. But thanks to a brilliant invention called the Epstein drive, a type of fusion rocket, man has finally conquered the solar system, and we live in a robust space economy in this brave new world that the authors (for whom Corey is a pseudonym) have imagined for us. I haven't finished the book yet — I'm only about 60 pages in so far — but from what I've read, I love it so far. The science is great, and so is the story. These guys really know how how to write a crackin' good yarn, I tells ya.
The story concerns several characters in this wild new world: Julie Mao, the sole survivor of a pirate (we think) attack on a ship called The Scopuli; Holden, the XO of an ice-mining ship; and Miller, a police detective on Ceres, a space station situated on an asteroid, tasked with locating Ms. Mao for her rich parents. So far their lives have not intersected, save for Holden's ship being redirected to search for the wreck of The Scopuli, and finding a strange beacon there that doesn't make any sense. I'm hooked. I gotta find out what's gonna happen next. I think the thing I like best about Corey's writing is that it's the opposite of my writing. My writing tends to be very florid, with lots of adjectives, rich description, and tons of flowery ornamentation . . . a lot like — and I hate to say this because it sounds l like I'm criticizing myself, here — a lot like Lovecraft's writing, or at least the things he's sometimes criticized for overdoing. I tend to be heavy on style a lot in my writing, maybe too reliant on it at times. But Corey's writing isn't like that at all. His writing is lean and mean. Not Hemingway lean and mean . . . I couldn't take that; I don't like Hemingway, as I've been very vocal about in the past (just ask any of my literature professors about that), as I find him boring and way too clipped . . . but I do admire the art of sparsely-decorated prose that gets the job done, in the spirit of Arthur C. Clarke or Robert A. Heinlein, two of my sci-fi idols of years gone by. And this book totally nails the Heinlein vibe, much like John Scalzi did, only without Scalzi's trademark sarcasm and witty sense of Joss-Whedon-like humor. No, Corey is all-business, rather cutthroat, if you will . . . this story is serious, dead serious, buster. But it never feels forced or like it's heavy-handed, which is very good. It feels compelling, but not claustrophobic or cloying. Yet it still has that awesome, "there's nothing between you and the vacuum but three inches of metal" feeling that you really need with hard sci-fi, and it gets that tone and feeling just right, in just the right dose. Not too much of it, but just enough.
And again, OMG, the science accuracy. Of course, there's no hyperdrive or FTL in this book. (I understand that the aliens they eventually meet have FTL, but that's supposedly not until Book 3 of the series.) And I thought that, you know, that might be boring when I first picked it up. I mean, what's space opera without FTL, right? Well, I was totally wrong on that. It's actually really compelling to read about space travel that sticks to the solar system and that plays by strict Newtonian and Einstenian rules. Because you know what? Without FTL in the mix, you're reminded of just how HUGE and EMPTY and VAST the depths of space really are. How utterly devoid they are of life, and of how inimicable and hostile space really is to human life. Which is really easy to forget when you're cruisin' on the Starship Enterprise with its cushy, plush interior with its warp drive, its replicators, and its holodecks. It's not so easy to forget when your ship works and operates more like a clunky-ass giant submarine that crushes your body to the seat whenever thrust is applied by its giant fusion rocket engines . . . when the fusion reactor at its core can melt your face off at twenty paces if even one tiny thing goes wrong with it . . . whenever radiation from the thruster assembly is a thing you have to really, really worry about . . . and whenever the atmosphere could vent at any moment if even a tiny ice-crystal pings the hull, and whenever it's just one inch of steel between you and the total vacuum of space. Yeah, it's hard to forget the cold reality that space is fucking terrible when you're not drivin' by at warp speed on a cruise ship with artificial gravity, like the White Star from Babylon 5, or like the Prometheus from . . . well, Prometheus. Shit gets real, real quick, when you have to fire breaking thrusters to slow down so you don't hit the goddamned planetoid in front of you because you're going too fucking fast. Basically, what I'm saying is that real science can be just as sexy as the fake science we sci-fi writers tend to like to employ in our made-up fantasy worlds. Every bit. And Corey knows how to manipulate it like a master in the telling of his (their) tale.
I'll let you all know how the book turns out. Should be fantastic. I'm already planning on buying the other books in the series, so that I can have them for when I finish this one. I love a good sci-fi yarn well told, and Corey is great at this. Hats off to these fine young authors and a tale deftly spun.