Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday Review Post, 2/4/2012

That's the bookcase in the living room, several months ago. Today, the top three shelves are mostly empty of books. We're moving. We signed a lease on a new apartment this afternoon. This should not affect my posting schedule - it will be as erratic as always - but it does mean that we're closer to a different library than before. But it's a library that I like, and Lora will still be working downtown next to the library that we've been going to regularly, so there should be no change there either.

However, in the process of pulling books off of shelves and putting them into boxes, we have discovered several books that we're not sure why we own them. Any thoughts on what we should do with them?

Ok. One book this week:

James Corey - Leviathan Wakes

This was a monster of a book. It is accurately described as space opera - science fantasy, perhaps - in that it's set out in space, and the science is only as solid as necessary. There is no deep explanation of how the propulsion drives work or any of that, but there's no scenes where people walk around in hard vacuum without space suits either, so that's all good.

Plotwise - Detective Miller works on Ceres, an asteroid that has been hollowed out and houses a significant population of people in the asteroid belt. Ceres serves as a significant port and waystation between the inner planets and the Belt. Miller works for a for-profit police force. His boss calls him in and gives him a case - locate a young woman and return her (involuntarily if necessary) to her parents. As Miller begins this, Jim Holden more or less destroys the solar system (socially, not physically).

Jim Holden is the second in command on Canterbury, an ice freighter, carrying ice from the rings of Saturn to the residents of the Belt - the ice provides water, which, obviously, can't be produced on an asteroid. The Canterbury answers a distress signal. While Jim and part of the crew are investigating the signal, an unknown force shows up and destroys the Canterbury. Holden broadcasts this to the whole solar system, implying that Mars had something to do with it. War between Belter separatists and Mars ensues. Miller loses his job, and decides to follow up his last case independently of his former employer.

Holden and Miller end up helping each other out. They mess it up with Mars, and with a shadowy Earth corporation. They fight zombies. (yes, really. And it's cool, it all makes sense.)

So. I really liked the book. Although it's the first book of a projected trilogy, it had a solid, satisfying ending. The implication, from the teaser for book 2 (which I glanced at, but did not read - I rarely read teasers) implies that each book will be entirely self contained. In a way, then, this was an exercise in extended world-building. As such, it was excellent - I liked the world that Corey created, and would certainly read another book set in the world. I'm also glad that it will feature different characters, because Jim and Miller kinda grated by the end. Miller is a Belter (born and raised in low gravity), and Jim is from Earth, and there's a lot of (interesting) discussions of morality based in learned environments and such, but the upshot is that the two characters don't mesh well - they work together, but at arms length, and only under duress.

I did think the book was a little over long. There were a couple of places that I thought it could have ended. I'm not sorry that it continued - had it ended elsewhere, the story would have been less than complete - but there were a couple of places where I was "oh, there's more? Why?" and then found out why.

The writing was collaborative - James Corey is actually Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Franck is the assistant to George Martin, which may well explain why the book was so long. At any rate, I didn't know that until I got to the author's note at the end - it didn't show. Perhaps they traded off sections - the chapters alternated between Miller and Holden - but whatever they did, the whole meshed nicely, and there were no visible seams.

The impulse behind the book - to write a solid space opera set in the middle future (not the "just around the corner, but with Robots!", nor the "In the distant future, Mankind will have two heads!") - is interesting. In the author interview (Orbit does this "added value" thing in their books, it's cool) , Corey suggests that no-one else is writing in that middle future at the moment. This may be true - the book was reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh and  Jule Czerneda, but Cherryh's space stuff is a little older than I like to think. Czerneda is more current, but perhaps less widely read? I don't know - my initial reaction to the statement was "well, but I can think of several authors who write in the middle future," but now that I ponder it, perhaps several of them are in the more distant future, where humanity has expanded well beyond our solar system. If this series prompts more books like this, I'll be happy. If you like gritty stories set in the spaces between the hard vacuum, and involving (but not dominated by) large spacecraft armed with heavy weapons, you may well like this book too.