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Cover of Leviathan Wakes showing a spaceship approaching a human-developed asteroid.


Humanity has colonized the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond — but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, "The Scopuli," they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for — and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to "The Scopuli" and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations — and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. (source)


Spoilers.

Leviathan Wakes has —

Awesome space battles: ✓
Fantastic teamwork and team dynamics: ✓
Cool divisions in future!humanity: ✓
Neat space habitats: ✓
SPACE ADVENTURES: ✓
Morally dubious baddies: ✓
Brothels in space!!: ✓
Smurfette Principle in Action: ✓
Important Dead Lady: ✓

...wait.

Here's where I spend another review conflicted over a book I really enjoyed doing some things I really didn't enjoy and am tired of seeing.

Let me just get it out of the way now: there are two main lady characters in this book. Naomi (aforementioned lady who is the only lady on her team) is an awesome XO wilth tons of skill at talking captains off ceilings and fixing broken shit who is partially reduced to a love interest for a well-meaning, but sort of bumbling main character, Holden. Holden spends a good chunk of his time halfway through the book making things awkward for her (and everyone else, in true Nice Guy fashion) due to his unrelenting feelings he just can't keep contained after Various Plot Events. She eventually has to resolve their UST herself because he doesn't understand emotions (his or anyone else's), or, perhaps, words. ("I like your head." Holden thinks, eloquently. Okay, whatever, I'm a marshmallow, this whole moment was pretty fucking adorable.)

There's also Julie, who is very obviously being awesome and kickass in those hidden places of the narrative we have to imagine for ourselves, because she's busy being dead and fodder for another main character, Miller, to drive himself into severe, obsessive psychosis. Within that psychosis, he takes a perilous drop from "cop of some skill" into "will shoot you in the face if he doesn't like it". He also starts hallucinating his own personal demons, so we barely get "Julie" we get "Julie as imagined by man of dubious mental health".

The ladies exist to provide varying levels of motivation for the men (protection, redemption, etc.). The only other ladies are incidental, so even though they are often leaders and captains with really big guns they are still relegated to the background. While they're cool in their own way, they never fill out into more tangible characters. The end of the book, however, made me curious about the future of the series re: ladies because I suspect I have an inkling of what may happen in Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate. I have heard good things, but I can't judge one book on what might be happening in the sequel I haven't yet read. SORRY AUTHORS.

Oh, also, (implicitly filled with women) whorehouses are still a thing (why are there so many???), and Miller likes to use whorehouse/whore metaphors/similes to have thoughts about the tough row he's having to hoe on his lonesome as he failed to notice his slow slide into a bitter alcoholic no one wants to work with, because Abused/Dead Whores Are Gritty Realism, or something. I never quite got it. Noir, noir, something. Is all noir like this? Maybe I just have a problem with how sex work is portrayed in fiction as something dirty that you only choose as a last resort. This is a longer, unrelated discussion, but suffice it to say: I'm not against the whole "brothels in space" trope, but it does get tiring when the trope paints people who engage in sex work, due to personal choice, as broken/implicitly poor/unsympathetic/often dead or abused/objects. There's some complexity here that quite often never gets mined. What's really happening is not actually adding any depth, but using cultural shorthand and the problematic aspects that we often hear about/see regarding sex work to help the reader build the narrative. It's easier to add it to the narrative for "world building" because everyone knows where there are humans there will be sex, drugs, etc. — supply and demand. Positive portrayals are low or completely absent, and that bugs me. A great article about this trope as it relates to this book is On Space Opera: Why so many brothels in space? by Malinda Lo.

Back on the main topic of "Leviathan Wakes and The Ladies", I explored my feelings about the amount of ladies in this book via a test I've been doing lately of who I consider the main/supporting characters:

Holden - M
Miller - M
Havelock - M
Naomi - F
Alex - M
Amos - M
Julie - F
Fred Johnson - M

SPACE ADVENTURES GENDER FLIP:

Holden - F
Miller - F
Havelock - F
Naomi - M
Alex - F
Amos - F
Julie - M
Fred Johnson - F

What I eventually decided was it may be the future, but it's still a dude's future regardless of the amount of background ladies (and, really, why should I be content with background ladies??). I felt like Atreyu dragging myself through the Swamps of Sadness after losing my pony, Hope Springs Eternal. "Oops!" Leviathan Wakes says when I discover unexamined sexism floating in the milk of my space flakes. "You thought this was space opera set in the future where women might get more main roles integral to righteous, world-saving adventure and spaceship thrills? Well, um...well, we have new forms of racism? Some dudes emote at each other over morality? Vomit zombies? *hopeful smile*"

This is why we can't have nice things.

All these concerns I have about the (defrosted out of cryostasis from the 21st century especially for this story!) gender politics are my only genuinely negative feelings about this story. Other than often feeling deeply uncomfortable due to some of Miller's inner dialogue, which I guess is there to make him seem very Weathered Cop Who's Seen It All (The moon itself [...] filled the frame, turning slowly to show all sides like a prostitute at a cheap brothel.), and completely boggled by the tired gender essentialism ("For the next couple of weeks, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from fulfilling every whim [she] might have. It was a behavior some men carried at the genetic level, their DNA wanting to make sure that first time wasn’t just a fluke."), I really enjoyed Leviathan Wakes: politics and war and loyalty to both sides; tight-knit teams that aren't afraid to die for one another but also refuse to leave each other behind; people who care and worry and value each other's skills; and the incredible vast feeling the narrative conveys about how huge a stage this story is playing out on. Leviathan Wakes shows how unfathomable the universe still is, even now that we have laid claim to some of our solar system, and makes sure we know it's terrifying and will probably consume us whole if we don't get spaced, blown up, poisoned by radiation, or shot first. This book is super cheery, is what I'm saying. IT WAS GREAT.

Leviathan Wakes made me realize that my enjoyment of crime fiction can be divorced completely from my love of science fiction. I don't know why that's a surprise. I've never met a terrible cop show I didn't love to mainline. Ah, TNT Law & Order re-runs, you were my favorite. Then there's CSI! (But only CSI: Miami, really.) And I am loving the hell out of The Sentinel, and not just for the vaguely appropriative superhuman mythos being built, complete with mystical flute music. I just really like shootouts and and explosions! I honestly love watching cops and detectives figure out what's going on, and it doesn't have to be in space. Although, as I have determined, space is going to be a huge bonus, because, seriously, space.

Alas, Miller, he didn't live up to my expectations. No one pulls off Overly Dramatic Deductions like Horatio Caine, who is my Weathered Cop Ideal. No one really needs shades in spaceships or stations, which is a shame, because shades might have made me appreciate Miller more as a character. The hat's not quite doing it for me, although I did respect Miller's ability to appear completely serene while doing anything: being told he sucks, suffering horribly from radiation poisoning, being told he sucks more, being shot at, facing down deadly space goo, being told he sucks again, and being fiercely determined to self-destruct. Something, something, something noir. Unfortunately Miller just seems like an unsympathetic, vaguely sexist, morally bankrupt, alcoholic douche if you're missing the noir background that I...am guessing is meant to make him a deeper character? That's all right, Miller. I don't have to like you to think you're pretty awesome at what you do, even if you need to lay off the juice and maybe read some books on sex positivity.

There was a central disagreement on morality and freedom of information in this novel between the Earth captain and the Belter detective. Miller's a morality black hole to Holden's bright red giant. Give it up, Holden, you're never going to win this one. Pack it in and try selling somewhere else. I was actually surprised that Holden didn't get most of his crew killed, given as how he was often recklessly righteous and afraid of nothing, especially the dark abyss of his ignorance. Even though I didn't like Miller much, I tended to agree with him every time Holden climbed up on his INFORMATION JUST WANTS TO BE FREE rocket and launched his inability to consider the consequences into the most complicated political situation he could find. Oh well; I guess killing off his crew would be too much after the guilt over starting a few wars; too much manpain can get pretty tired, and don't I know it, since I watch Teen Wolf. I'm still really surprised at the non-friendship friendship that Holden and Miller developed; there was this feeling I got halfway through their time together that under different circumstances, they would have made excellent partners and forced each other out of the destructive parts of themselves that risked everyone around them getting angry, violent, or worse, killed. There's a sliver of time on Eros before everything goes to shit that suggests to me that, in a different universe, they might have actually trusted one another. Then, of course, there's a psychotic break and all those dreams are crushed under the cold-hearted heel of the narrative that just really doesn't want Miller to have nice things, or Holden to have the keeper he so desperately needs.

Meanwhile, the mystery of this book, which Holden lands in the middle of incidentally and Miller discovers, was a completely fucking awful, uncompromising, violent look at abuses of power, science twisted and used as a weapon, and how in the future, we may come to shift our perspective on guilt and justice when resources are low and we have to buy the air we breathe. The limitations of space are different than the limitations of a a home planet. The stakes are higher because the vacuum waiting to suck you up is way closer.

We can plumb the dark abyss of our human curiosity, but Leviathan Wakes says when we do it, we're probably going to find monsters. Space monsters.

Ugh, I love space adventures. brb getting the next book immediately.

Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers, A Dribble of Ink, Staffer's Book Review, Susan Hated Literature, Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews, Val's Random Comments, Speculative Book Review, Fantasy Review Barn, Bookworm Blues, yours?

Date: 2013-08-12 02:43 am (UTC)
morwen_peredhil: (lok lin bei fong korra arrest)
From: [personal profile] morwen_peredhil
No spoilers, but I will say that the second book is much better when it comes to female characters.

Date: 2013-08-12 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yeah, we kind of biffed the gender politics in the first one. Glad it didn't utterly ruin the book for you. We tried to do better in the next books. -- Daniel

Date: 2016-12-29 06:01 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This captures my feelings about the book so far quite perfectly. I'm only halfway-ish through and was so irritated (even though I love almost everything else) that I had to Google whether it got better to even finish this one. Good to know that it won't yet, but it Should.

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