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Saturday, June 11, 2011

“Leviathan Wakes” by James S.A. Corey (Reviewed by Robert Thompson) w/Bonus Q&A

Order “Leviathan WakesHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James S.A. Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham—award-nominated author of The Long Price Quartet, Hunter’s Run (w/ Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin), the short story collection Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, the Wild Cards: The Hard Call comic book miniseries, The Black Sun’s Daughter urban fantasy series written as MLN Hanover, and The Dragon’s Path—and Ty Franck, George R.R. Martin’s assistant. They both live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

PLOT SUMMARY: Welcome to the future. 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. Soon, war is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Meanwhile, 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 Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must now 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...

FORMAT/INFO: Leviathan Wakes is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, fifty-five chapters and an Epilogue. Extras include an interview with the author and an extract from Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse series. Narration is in the third person, alternating between Executive Officer James Holden and Detective Miller, except for the Prologue (Julie) and Epilogue (Fred). Leviathan Wakes is mostly self-contained, coming to a satisfying stopping point, but the book is the opening volume in The Expanse series which will have at least two sequels: Caliban’s War and Dandelion Sky.

June 2, 2011/June 15, 2011 marks the UK/North American Trade Paperback publication of Leviathan Wakes via Orbit Books. Cover art is provided by Daniel Dociu.

ANALYSIS: When it comes to reviewing science fiction, I’m hardly qualified considering how little of the genre I read, but even I can recognize great science fiction when I see it, and Leviathan Wakes definitely fits the bill...

Written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes is a space opera novel set in a future where humans have colonized the solar system and is on the verge of launching their first generation ship. It’s a future that immediately feels authentic because of the numerous details and believable concepts—Belters with their altered physiques and different worldviews, Inner/Outer planet prejudice, the effects of gravity on spaceships and space stations at different g-force—used by the authors to flesh out the setting. At the same time, Daniel and Ty do an excellent job of making sure the reader isn’t overwhelmed with too much information. So not only is there a sense of realism with the book’s futuristic setting, but it’s also easy to grasp.

As far as characters go, Leviathan Wakes features two main protagonists in James Holden and Detective Miller. Holden is the Executive Officer of an ice hauler, who eventually becomes the captain of the Rocinante, and is defined by his uncompromising moral fiber, a strong sense of loyalty to his crew, and his naiveté towards women and relationships. Miller on the other hand, is a washed up/world-weary detective for Star Helix security, who becomes too close to a case and is willing to do whatever it takes to see things through to the end. Miller is basically the polar opposite of Holden, so even though they are fighting for the same cause, an interesting dynamic arises between the two protagonists, especially regarding morality. Differences aside, both Holden and Miller are deeply compelling characters because of their fully developed personalities—Miller speaks to an imaginary Julie Mao for example—human flaws, and sympathetic dilemmas. At least for me, I found it impossible not to root for the protagonists’ survival and success in matters like solving the Julie Mao case, Holden hooking up with Naomi, and Miller finding absolution. The supporting cast (Naomi, Alex, Amos, Fred Johnson, Julie Mao) meanwhile, is a bit underdeveloped—at least compared to Holden & Miller—but they work well as complements to the main characters.

Story-wise, Leviathan Wakes alternates between the narratives of James Holden and Detective Miller. Holden’s narrative involves broadcasted information that sparks a war between Mars and the Belt and forces the XO and his crew on the run, while Miller’s narrative is heavily influenced by noir with the detective trying to figure out how Julie Mao, the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), the sudden decline of organized crime on Ceres Station and the Mars/Belt conflict are all connected. With the disintegrating racial tensions between Earthers and Belters added to the mix, Miller’s narrative felt a lot like reading a Richard K. Morgan novel. Once the two narratives converge on Eros and events start escalating however, the action really heats up with the book’s climactic moments on Tycho Station and Eros bringing to mind Neal Asher and Peter F. Hamilton, while the novel’s horror elements involving the protomolecule eerily recalled Ridley Scott’s Alien and the Dead Space video games. Through it all—including moments both epic and intimate, exciting and thought-provoking—Leviathan Wakes is an incredibly well-crafted story highlighted by smart plotting, unexpected surprises, skillful pacing and a rewarding feeling of satisfaction once the book is concluded.

Overall, Leviathan Wakes is an amazing book. In fact, there is not a single negative thing I can say about the novel, which delivers in all phases including setting, characterization, story, pacing, prose, and from a purely entertainment standpoint. Simply put, Leviathan Wakes is the best novel I’ve read in 2011—so far—and arguably the best thing Daniel Abraham has ever written, while introducing a remarkable new talent in Ty Franck. My only concern is with the sequel and whether it will be able to live up to the lofty standards set in Leviathan Wakes, but I’m confident that Daniel & Ty will give it their best shot and I look forward to seeing the results of their efforts in Caliban’s War...

BONUS FEATURE — Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck Q&A (Questions were answered in May):

Q: James S.A. Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck with ‘James’ representing Daniel’s middle name, ‘Corey’ representing Ty’s middle name, and the ‘S.A.’ representing your children. Now I’m familiar with Daniel Abraham having read most of his work, but I don’t know very much about Ty Franck, except he’s George R.R. Martin’s assistant and develops settings for role playing games. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself Ty, like the kind of work you do for GRRM, how you first got started in writing, and what you hope to accomplish as an author?

Ty: I'm the office monkey for George. I run the errands, do his bookkeeping, handle his schedule and appointments, and occasionally help with non-writing aspects of his work. For example, I might write up a summary report on the average speeds various army compositions have moved at in history. Or I might give him theoretical numbers on how fast a person can fly without protective gear. I occasionally do some line editing or first draft reading. And now and then I'm the wall ideas get bounced off of.

I first got started in writing when I wrote a short story called “Audience” about ten years ago. On the strength of that story, Orson Scott Card invited me to attend his Writer's Bootcamp. He later bought the story for his online magazine, and for an anthology he edited. I wrote a few other stories after that, but I was working very full time in senior management positions and later with a consulting firm, so writing was very back burner for me. It wasn't until Daniel proposed the idea of novelizing Leviathan that I got serious about it again. As to what I hope to accomplish? Honestly, for Leviathan Wakes all I wanted to accomplish was learning how to write a novel, and not embarrassing myself in the process.

Q: On your website HERE, Ty explains how The Expanse series originated and discusses the collaborative writing process, but how did the series end up at Orbit and what are your thoughts on the publisher?

Ty: Orbit has been amazing. Just let me say that right off the bat. We love them to death. But they bought the book initially when it was making the rounds. Our amazing agents, Shawna McCarthy and Danny Baror, were sending the book around to the usual publishing houses, and Orbit was the one that bit. And not just bit, but bit down with an enthusiasm that really took Daniel and I by surprise. Our editor there, Dongwon Song, has been a superhero in helping us make the book better. And the Orbit marketing department has done an incredible job of getting the book into the right hands, and stirring up a lot of buzz. Also, that cover. That cover still amazes me with its awesomeness. So, yeah, loving the Orbit guys.

Daniel: As far as cover art, I have no idea if we'd have been given input and influence over that, because they showed it to us and we said something like "Ooh. I want to go there." They've been genuinely great when if comes to helping us figure out how to do publicity and supporting not just the books, but us. As far as weaknesses, I would totally say something snarky and coded if I had anything, but these folks have been great.

Q: During the writing process for Leviathan Wakes, Daniel wrote all of the chapters from the POV of the detective Miller, while Ty wrote the chapters from Holden’s POV, before you exchanged chapters and edited each other’s work. Was there a specific reason you chose the perspectives you did, like maybe a certain quality about the character that interested you or reminded you of yourself?

Daniel: Actually, I got Miller because he was the character I played in Ty’s game, and Ty took Holden because he knew the character well and I wasn’t in the games where Holden appeared. That said I think once I spent a year living in Miller’s head, he reminded me of me. That’s usually how it works for me.

Ty: Yeah, that's pretty much it. Holden isn't me, at all. I'm quite cynical actually, and Holden is anything but cynical. But I understand why Holden thinks his view of the world is right, and I can empathize with him.

Q: On the subject of the writing process, what qualities does Daniel bring to the table as a writer? What about Ty? In what ways do you complement and improve each other’s writing?

Daniel: I don’t have any doubt that working with Ty made me a better writer. I can tell just by the kinds of feedback I got when we sent out the manuscript to my traditional first readers. I think I brought a lot of the kind of writerly tricks and technical experience. But Ty brought the world and the characters and the story.

Ty: Working with Daniel taught me how to write a novel. I had no idea how to do that when we started. He'd done it something like seven times when we started writing Leviathan Wakes. If I taught Daniel anything, it's that sometimes you just have to have a gunfight.

Q: I’ll be honest. Leviathan Wakes was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in years. How do you plan to top this book in the sequel, Caliban’s War, while staying true to the humanity, emotionalism and moral complexity that was established in Leviathan Wakes?

Daniel: What happens in Caliban’s War is an outgrowth of what happened in Leviathan Wakes. There are some new people who come in, and we’ve lost some of the old ones along the way, but it’s very much the same story.

Ty: Yeah, what he said. The Expanse is one very big story about humans taking their first baby steps into a universe that is far more dangerous and strange than they could ever have known. Caliban builds on what happens in Leviathan Wakes, and adds another layer to that story. Dandelion Sky, the third book, will build on that. But the thing Daniel and I are committed to is keeping the books about the People, not the gizmos. So while the canvas is enormous, the fine brush strokes will always be the internal lives of characters we care about.

Q: Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination”, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, and Joss Whedon’s Firefly & Serenity are some of the influences you mentioned behind Leviathan Wakes. Are you incorporating any new influences in the sequel? Speaking of Caliban’s War, could you also tell us how things are progressing with the sequel, maybe talk about the sample chapter from Caliban’s War that was included in the Extras section of Leviathan Wakes, and what else readers can expect from the book?

Daniel: I’d say we added in Rahm Emanuel and John le Carré. Caliban’s War is less of a noir mystery and more of a political gamesmanship novel. And then the third one—Dandelion Sky—borrows more from psychological thrillers while still being overtly sentimental space opera.

Ty: The sample chapter is written from the POV of one of our new characters, a Martian marine named Bobbie Draper. We considered having Holden be our first chapter, but while Holden's story is an important thread running through the middle of Caliban, Bobbie's first appearance just kicks ass, and lets the reader know they're in for a wild ride. So we went with Bobbie.

Q: Leviathan Wakes presents a future where the solar system has been largely colonized and is on the verge of launching its first generation ship. Do you believe these things will one day occur and what science fiction concept would you most like to see become a reality?

Daniel: I don’t think these things will happen. I think the future of space exploration is, for the most part, robotic. We’re sacks of water built for living in the environment we evolved in, and space is a hilariously hostile place. It’s just that I’d love to be wrong.

Ty: The solar system we write about makes not one lick of economic sense. And Daniel is an economics guy, so we probably broke his brain working this project. But I like space ships. I want to live on one. Screw economics. I want to live on the Canterbury.

Q: The idea for Leviathan Wakes originated from Ty’s notes on a RPG game he was designing. With having that kind of experience, working so well together, and Daniel’s willingness to try out different formats and genres (comic books, fantasy, SF, mosaic novels, etc.), have the two of you thought about designing a RPG together? And what do you feel are the keys to designing a successful RPG?

Daniel: We’ve thought about it, but alas Valve wasn’t hiring when we asked. I think it would be a blast to be on a team that was designing a good RPG. The thing that I like most in RPGs—the things that make the really good ones stand out—are smart dialog and choices that carry real consequences. The games where I know it doesn’t matter what I do or say because I’m going to wind up in the same place regardless aren’t as interesting to me as the ones where I’m really paying attention to the conversation trees.

Ty:  I've always wanted to write for a game company. Valve or Bioware are welcome to call me any time. Daniel's right about what matters in a good game. So many games concentrate on fancy combat mechanics or cutting edge graphics, and ignore the story and the dialog. But the games I play over and over again are the ones where I find the conversations fascinating, and the choices I make in the game meaningful.

Q: Because of your relationship to GRRM, you both have a unique perspective on HBO’s adaptation of “A Game of Thrones”. What do you think of the adaptation so far? On a related note Daniel, how are things going with the Game of Thrones comic book adaptation, and how will it differ from HBO’s adaptation?

Daniel: I think HBO has done about as good an adaptation as is possible to do. They’ve done really, really good work with that. And of course, it’s a different medium so it makes the story different. I’m old school. I like the books better. The comic book project is actually very different from the HBO adaptation.  I hadn’t seen the HBO work when I started the scripts, and I haven’t made all the same decisions that they did. And I have different constraints too. They’re going to look similar because I think we’re all trying to stay as true as we can to the original text, but that’s about all the overlap I expect.

Ty: The show creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have done an amazing job. They're both really talented writers who care about the source material a lot. And the team they've assembled has just knocked the ball out of the park in things like set design and costuming and casting. Also, is Maisie Williams not the most amazing little actress you've ever seen in your life? I can already tell Arya is going to be a favorite as the series goes on.

Q: Ty, I believe you are working on a zombie novel. Could you tell us more about this book and any other projects you might be working on?

Ty: “Working on” might be a bit generous. I've plotted it out, but I haven't written a chapter yet. I've been in a mad dash to finish Caliban’s War by deadline, so everything else has fallen by the wayside. But in general, my project is about the flaw I see in most zombie stories. The truth is, we'd win in a zombie apocalypse. We have lots of soldiers with guns and tanks, and those things beat zombies every time. But what is the world like in a post zombie event? What's life like when every time someone dies they become a zombie? I think ER doctor's pack heat, for one.

Q: Definitely sounds like a book I would be interested in! You mention a deadline for Caliban’s War. For some authors it’s easier writing their second novel, while for others it’s more difficult. What’s it been like for you so far, especially with the deadline, and in what ways do you think you have improved as a writer compared to Leviathan Wakes?

Ty: Well, our mad dash is entirely our own fault. Daniel and I didn't really get started with Caliban's War until we had just enough time to finish it, and that was a mistake. Of course, he wrote three other books during that lull, while I mostly played Xbox games. But we've learned our lesson, and Dandelion Sky will start getting attention as soon as Caliban is in the can.

Improvement wise, uh, everything? I feel comfortable writing a novel now. I know the process. A lot of the things that Daniel used to have to edit in for me, like sensory detail, I just sort of do automatically now. Working with Daniel for a year has been the best writing course anyone could possibly take.

Q: Daniel, The Dragon’s Path was released in April. Are you happy with the response the book has received so far and how are things going with The King’s Blood?

Daniel: I’ve had a lot of very positive responses to The Dragon’s Path. I was a little worried when I did it that I’d alienate some of the folks who were looking for The Long Price only different, but generally I think I’ve gotten away with it. The King’s Blood is due on June 1st, and I’m expecting to make that deadline. There will still be the runout of editorial notes and rewrite, same as always, but I’m very happy with where that book’s going. I know the last sentence in it. I always like it when I’ve seen exactly where I’m going.

Q: As someone who has written both science fiction and fantasy, what do you feel are the biggest differences between the two genres? Is one genre harder to write than the other, and if so, how?

Daniel: I don't think either is particularly more difficult. There are some different expectations and limitations in them. I'm getting talked slowly into the idea that science fiction isn't a genre but a modality. Science fiction really welcomes other genres in, like the noir mystery part of Leviathan Wakes. I'm not sure that fantasy would accept a hard-boiled detective in a porkpie hat with the same grace.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Daniel: One of the things that we don’t talk about much is marketing. Ty and I aren’t either one of us very adept at self-promotion. If folks like these books—The Dragon’s Path, Leviathan Wakes, whatever—the single most powerful force in making them successful in the world is readers’ word of mouth. If folks want to see more like these, please tell your friends, blog about it, tweet about it, all that good 21st century stuff. Orbit’s been really amazingly good to us, and apart from my own dreams of world domination, I’d like to see them rewarded for it.

Ty: Yeah, I'm terrible at social media. I'm a hermit by nature, and the constant noise generated by things like Twitter and Facebook just makes me tired. I recognize that this is a failure in our modern society, but I'm too tired to fix it. So,  yeah, feel free to tweet on my behalf. If you want to read my occasional sardonic Facebook post, you can always friend James S.A. Corey and try to prod me into interaction.

15 comments:

Doug M. said...

I agree. I loved every bit of this book. And top of everything you mentioned... there were some laugh out loud moments where I'm pretty sure something came out of my nose. ;)

celawerdblog said...

Very interesting interview.

Daniel said...

Also pointing out that at least in the States, the ebook versions of Leviathan Wakes and The Dragon's Path both come with a copy of the other which makes it just about impossible to resist.

malazan said...

@Daniel

Hi,i am fan of your work,really loved the LPQ series.

must ask u,is the version (Leviathan Wakes) that is included in the Dragon's Path ebook the same as in the individual ebook that will be rlsd on the 15th ? or is it an uncorrected ARC ?

Robert said...

Hi Doug! There were some humorous moments in the book, although it's not one of the things I think about when I look back on the novel. So thanks for bringing it up :D

Cela, is that interesting in a good way or a bad way?

Malazan, I'll let Daniel answer your question because I'm not really sure myself...

Doug M. said...

@malazan: I can attest to the fact that the ARC of Leviathan Wakes included with Dragons Path reads like a finished product (I don't recall any typos that tripped me up). I'd be surprised if there is much of a difference between it and the ebook due out the 15th.

@Robert: I know I laugh at things that others might not find all that funny, but c'mon... Amos was a laugh-riot! The hilarity of the banter between the various crew-members of the Rocinante was balanced nicely by the noir, deadpan terseness of detective Miller's character. I can't say enough about it, really. I hope it's a huge hit.

Robert said...

I can back up Doug's statements. There are very few, if any noticeable typos in the ARC of Leviathan Wakes...

As to the humor, it could just be me. I mean I definitely chuckled a few times, but that's not the reason I loved the book ;)

Liviu said...

I regret I could not add my thoughts to Robert though I did a short post a while ago

http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/2011/01/four-more-notable-2011-upcoming-novels.html

about Leviathan Wakes, but I agree that is a superb book and one of my top A++ novels of 2011

Daniel Abraham said...

@Malazan

Actually, I think that was a different Daniel. But to the question.

Because Dragon's Path came out while LW was still in production, they started of with an uncorrected ARC of LW as the extra. Now that LW's all cleaned up, I believe they're shipping the final versions of both books with whichever one you buy.

Calibandar said...

Very nice interview, I enjoyed reading it. I already intended to pick up Leviathan at some point, but now I will order straight away.

Robert said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the interview Calibander, and I hope you like the book!

Mark Lawrence said...

Great post - I was taken with the cover from the moment I saw it way back & it's good to hear that what waits underneath is top notch stuff as well. If I enjoyed the review/interview so much I expect the book to be a treat!

Robert said...

I hope you get a chance to read the book Mark. It will be worth your time :D

chrisd said...

I just got the book from my local library. I wanted to see FBC's review and comments.

As always, this is a quality review. I look forward to reading it!

Robert said...

Thanks Chris! Let me know what you think when you've finished the book :D

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