I claim to be a scifi/fantasy fan, but lately while skimming through my bookshelf, I realized I’m severely lacking in the former. How can that be? I dig Star Trek and Star Wars as much as the next nerd. I nerd really hard on stories with good ass worldbuilding. So why?
Recently I’ve focused on books that reflected more diversity within the story and stories written by women (POC or not). These stories just happened to be fantasy. Scifi, especially written scifi can be intimidating to the uninitiated, including myself. The jargon, the complicated and sometimes long-winded explanations of the technology tends to lose me. I feel that character development tends to be pushed to the side in order to focus on the glory of this futuristic utopia/dystopia. One day while looking through my Kindle app since I just finished the physical book I had on me at the time (one of my true fears: not having anything to read while in transit. I must have a book with me at all times), I saw I had James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan’s Wake. I heard nothing but good things, plus the TV show was coming out soon so I figured why not? I was in the mood for a little hardcore scifi. Plus I was curious to see if I actually enjoyed space operas at all.
*Note: my ramblings are based on books 1 and 2 of The Expanse series
My first thought while reading the first book was, “Wow, now I know why this was made into a TV series.” James Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex, crew members of the ice carrier The Canterbury end up being the sole survivors of their ship when a random stealth ship blows it up to space dust. They watched this happen while they were investigating an SOS call from a ship called The Scopuli. Although the ship was abandoned, it was filled with something terrifying and horrifyingly worse. They end up discovering something that powerful people want and will even start a galactic war to keep their intentions unknown. Political intrigue and epic space battles ensue!!
There are quite a few things I love so far about this series. One, is the accessibility. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of technology and space station jargon, but the writing is accessible enough that one can envision it without hurting their brains too much. Another reason I enjoyed this book is surprise surprise! the world building! Humanity has colonized our solar system, but there are grudges between the inner and outer planets. The development of space expansion, the description of the space stations, the politics between Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA) and even the description of how humans survive fast space travel makes it feel so real that I would believe this can be our future. Living in space is described as harsh: there are always risks and things we take for granted on Earth: breathable air, sunlight and natural resources are worth everything. I admire that the writing doesn’t doll up how living in space would be. It’s humanity’s greatest feat, but it’s a hell of a lot of work to keep it together and survive.
What really keeps the book together for me, are of course, the characters. Holden, the idealist who believes talking should always come first before guns (though while reading the second book I’m not so sure now…), Naomi the awesome spaceship engineer, Amos the violent-prone chief engineer and the Martian pilot Alex are such a great dynamic and the crew family love is great, almost awww-worthy. The racial diversity of not only the crew, but the characters within this universe makes me squee in joy. Naomi’s mix of Asian, South American and African and Alex’s East Indian looks with Texan accent is such a great thing to read about. It wouldn’t be surprising to me at all that future generations will be so mixed and the general racial stereotypes we have today would not apply.
As a woman POC it’s definitely nice to see some sort of reflection of myself in these characters plus the fact that these are powerful, strong women who don’t lose their ability to feel. Naomi runs a tight ship, takes no shit from anybody but her character doesn’t lose that when she starts her relationship with Holden. Avasarala, the “cranky old bitch”, is one of the most powerful politicians in the UN and has more balls than any of the politicians she knows, yet she is still smitten with her husband and loves her grandchildren very much. I love it. Yes, Holden, the white(?) cis-het male from Montana is the POV mostly, but, meh, this book can’t be perfect. To be fair, Polynesian, big, bad-ass Bobbie has a POV in Caliban’s War so I’m perfectly down with that.
So. A scifi space opera that has characters you can relate to and cheer on, world-building that makes you think that what you’re reading is the future and a plot that freaks you out, but keeps you reading more because of all the conspiracy and space fights?