Monday, August 1, 2011

Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

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When I wrote about Bitter Seeds before, I mentioned that it bumped the next book on my list from the top of the genre-novel-of-the-year list.

This is that book.

Already, Leviathan Wakes is garnering incredible feedback and sending massive ripples through the genre waters. (I have it on hearsay that a top bookbuyer at a major bookseller thinks it will resuscitate the science fiction genre.) And it's only the first in a (three-part?) series. It's a damn fine book, co-written by two damn fine writers who also happen to be two damn good and really damn smart guys.

The book receives enough praise elsewhere that I don't need to parrot it all here. But I don't see enough discussion about what this book does to genre expectations (and it may well be that I'm just looking in the wrong places). The words "space opera" get bandied about all the time with this book, which is valid, but it goes so far beyond that.

Leviathan Wakes has two main narratives: Holden, a Serenity-style space captain, and Miller, a noir detective.

Screech the brakes, right? The former half of that equation sounds like warmed-up leftovers, and the latter sounds entirely out of place. That's what I loved about this book, though. Holden might have the swagger of Mal Reynolds, and he might be the captain of a Firefly-esque crew, but the narrative takes him in entirely different directions, sometimes more subtly than others. Holden is optimistic where Mal is realistic. Holden believes in doing right--not relatively, not half-assed, but wholly, repercussions be damned. You start off believing him to be a cookie-cutter moralist space captain,* but he's got... shapes. His sides get cut out and taped back on in different ways, so that by the end of the story, he's got a different form than at the beginning.

*Wait. There's a cookie cutter for that?

And Miller? This book made me wonder why the noir detective ever went out of style. (I'm convinced he never did -- his form simply changed, first into James Bond, and then in a number of fragmented directions.) He's got all the vices and problems you expect, except... he feels soggier, somehow, than Spade or Marlowe. This is a man who's been through the sewers of existence, and didn't come out as clean and shiny as the characters in Buffy do when they emerge from the sewers.

I'm not a genre writer--at least, not in the strict sense that the James S.A. Corey amalgamation is--but this book has affected more than my writing. It's informing the stories I tell. That's why any authors who turns their noses at a particular form deserve to have bookshelves fall onto them. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. And how cool is that?

(Oh, and you want to talk endings that wrap everything up while still delivering a kicker that makes you salivate for the next volume? This book's got it good.)

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