Books of 2017, #2: Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse #1)

By any measure, I was late to the party with The Expanse. I hadn’t heard of the author (either pseudonymously or individually), the books, or the SyFy Channel adaption until it was well underway—and I assumed, since SyFy hadn’t done anything of interest to me since before they changed their name, that it was probably going to be crap.

Still, I saw a review at that was quite complimentary, so I set the TiVo to pick up everything and waited for the earlier episodes to come back around, and then started watching.

Something like four episodes in, I bought all (at that time) five books, and devoured them all in short order. But I had utterly lapsed in tracking my reading by that point, so I never mentioned them here.

With the knowledge that the second season of the TV program is coming up, and the advent of a sixth novel being published last December—and knowing cramming down five novels in a couple of weeks doesn’t necessarily lead to the greatest retention of the material, so I didn’t want to start it and be confused—I decided to re-read them. And just for good measure, I decided to re-watch the first season of the show.

Whew, that’s a lot of preface.

I think the most interesting thing for me is really the contrast between my experience of this, and Last Year.

This is so unambiguously what I was thinking of when I talked about a plot-driven book.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some extremely likable characters, of whose interactions I am delighted to partake, whether it’s Miller in all his dourness, or Holden in his occasionally moronic idealism, or Amos in his…Amos-ness.

But in the end, the focus is ultimately on “what happens”—you can see the strings pulling the characters along. It’s not even enough that they simple witness the action, they have to play their part and read their lines so that Stuff Can Go Down. When the book ends, it’s hard to imagine these characters continuing narrative.

All of which sounds terribly pejorative, which isn’t really my intent—I’m not here to run these books down at all: I really enjoyed them the first time around, and I think I enjoyed them even more this time. But it’s a very different experience.

And the text is done with plenty of skill and attention. It is far more quotable than Last Year. To pick out a few things that I highlighted during this read:
The circle of life on Ceres was so small you could see the curve.
All the energy he’d put into holding things together—Ceres, his marriage, his career, himself—was coming free.
He changed to a competition show with incomprehensible rules and psychotically giddy contestants.
The second most interesting thing for me is the difference between the book at the TV show.

I hadn’t quite paid enough attention to the finer details of things the first time around, I guess, or maybe it was just lack of familiarity such that I didn’t notice it, but the way things play out in the book at the TV show are very different.

Some of it, I’m sure, was to keep production costs down—the escape from Eros, for instance, has a lot less going on in the TV show, and some of it is probably about things that would be a lot harder to present without requiring more telling and less showing—I’m thinking of the mechanism that brings Miller and the crew of the Rocinante to meet for the first time.

There were a number of things that were setup for events that happen in later books (I’m thinking of Naomi and Fred’s interactions here), and introducing Chrisjen Avasarala earlier was something of a no-brainer given how great she is in the books, and how important she becomes.

But the way they present Amos, or even, to a lesser extent, Chrisjen, ends up being less nuanced, and even hints and distorting the characters in a way that starts to remind me of what Peter Jackson did to Faramir the The Lord of the Rings—and that is the single thing about those movies that still sticks in my craw nearly a decade and a half later.

What I would really love to see, I think, would be an analysis by Todd Alcott, (or someone like him) who was both very familiar with the source material, and with what things work and don’t work in the visual medium, to perhaps try and understand why some of the changes were made.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.