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Review: Leviathan Wakes

The SyFy TV series The Expanse is based on this book, in case you've been living in a black hole. I saw season one of the show before reading the novel, and the former likely colored my perception of the latter. I loved the show, and I really liked the book, but experiencing them in that order confirmed that I can never read a book after seeing the show or movie. I had a hard time judging the appeal of the novel given that I knew what was going to happen and was picturing the characters as the actors as I read.

Having said that, the book is for the most part written well as one would expect from a work of traditionally published fiction. The story unfolds smoothly and logically. It's a solid, believable plot even though it isn't overly complex (human race fights over alien tech). There are a couple twists but nothing too unexpected. As a matter of fact, one of the things the author did well was to keep things simple, and sometimes less is more. The science and world-building is outstanding with things like future racism (Belters vs. Earthers), how the different gravities of different worlds affects space travelers, etc. This is one of the more plausible futures I've seen or read about except for perhaps the extent to which the author takes the alien tech. And I'm not so sure that Earth and Mars would each be these neatly unified entities. A typical pitfall of space opera is to make each planet equal a nation, but now I'm getting overly picky. If that's the worst issue, the book is doing great.

The alternating Holden/Miller viewpoints also work well. Both protagonists are flawed do-gooders, which are the types of characters with which I best identify. The likable characters each have their own recognizable personalities with strengths and flaws. The author is a master at knowing when to show a character taking action that characterizes him or her. But again, it was hard to know whether I was truly getting to know them through the words on the page or if my mind was substituting the actors. Miller does a lot of brooding, particularly toward the end. It was endearing up to a point and then I just wanted the author to get on with the story. Would I have had the same level of impatience if I didn't know what was going to happen? It's hard to say.

In the show, events unfold in a slightly different order, and there's more conflict among the characters than in the book. Those were the two biggest differences I noted. Also, the Earth government characters in the show were absent from the book. I've only read as far as the first few pages of book 2, so I don't know whether the show's producers made up the Earth officials or pulled them forward from later books like they did with Gunny. Otherwise, I was somewhat surprised by how true to the book the show stayed. That was mostly good and a little bad. Mostly good because the show didn't stray too far from what led them to make a show out of the book in the first place. And a little bad because there were no surprises in the book, nothing to pique my interest beyond what I already knew.

I read a lot of self-pub/indie, and the gap between quality self-pub/indie and trad-pub is razor thin (while the gap between a lot of other self-pub/indie and trad-pub is still Grand Canyon-esque). This book was well done but not light years beyond what other capable indie authors can produce.

All in all, I very nearly gave this book 5 stars but settled on 4 because the story had a few too many lulls and because I'll never truly be able to gauge my enjoyment level. I'm definitely going to keep watching the show, but continuing to read the books seems redundant, so I'm not sure if I will. I strongly recommend reading the books prior to watching the show.

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