I just finished Leviathan Wakes, the first of the Expanse series by the pseudonyonmous tag team known as James Corey. I’m usually not a space opera fan – it seemed so clearly empirical and alpha male even its latest iterations that I couldn’t take it seriously except as an example of a cultural anxieties and cultural work in action (thanks Cawelti and Tompkins) – and I’m not sure that this series will be different, although I had high hopes.
Still, some notes:
- the context – the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter has been settled, but humanity can’t go any farther – is especially promising as it feels geopolitically realistic. Mars and Earth treat the Belters like second class citizens, a different race, one designed simply to serve as a fount of natural resources, mostly minerals.
- This leads to tension between all three, and the first book (and first year of the tv series on syfy) uses that tension to put the three in a warm war.
- Pretty quickly, though, Corey goes where all space opera goes – the true threat is from way beyond the stars. I’m not sure why I keep looking for that piece of fiction that will solve all of our problems, but I do…
- About that…
- The action quickly changes when they find a protogen molecule sent from outer space. A bit too suddenly humanity realizes that – drum roll please – the future of the human race is at stake, and we turn like the Greeks at Salamis Bay.
- The alien feels a lot like Greg Bear’s Blood Music, in that the molecule isn’t necessarily intelligent or focused like an individual entity but that instead it follows its protocols to utilize biomass and distribute its processing. As such, it’s capable of powerful re-engineering that turns, for instance, a space station at Eros into a huge spaceship that can generate its own atmosphere.
- I loved Blood Music, and this alien force doesn’t quite match that one, in that the noocytes create what is essentially a utopia even though to all appearances they have killed all humans on the planet. This molecule isn’t that conscious or focused.
- For all my complaining, the empathy the creators have for Belters as a misunderstood race is pretty cool – the Belt is settled by those who have no options on a ridiculously overcrowded earth and don’t like the structure of Martian society (a democracy, but sort of Athenian in its focus on sacrifice and discipline). They note just how different folks growing up in this type of environment will be, to the way that gestures that we take for granted (shoulder shrugs, eye rolls) have to be performed with the hands because of the proximity of always living in a space suit.
- And, despite my complaints, I will keep reading.