Leviathan Wakes: Book One of the Expanse Series

17. September, 2012

Leviathan Wakes (Amazon) is the first book of the Expanse series.

First of all, a warning: Buy this book on a Friday evening. You might not get much sleep after starting reading.

I admit that I felt uneasy after reading the first scene in the “Look Inside” sample chapter. Julie’s fate made me wonder whether this was going to become splatter & gore later. That didn’t happen. The author does use violence when it makes sense at that point in the story. It’s still repugnant but it makes sense.

Which is the strong point: Everyone in the book is smart. There aren’t any stereotype evil guys. Everyone – protagonists and side characters – has a clear plan, a goal, means and will to achieve that goal – even if someone else is getting in the way. If something goes wrong, it goes wrong for a reason. If people make mistakes, they make them because it seemed a really good idea at the time. Shit happens. A lot of shit. The hard-boiled cop and the righteous ex-military, scraping off each other. Each absolutely sure that their course of action isn’t the best but only viable solution. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about cop vs. military. This is the struggle of two completely different characters that need to achieve the same goal and who actually get along pretty well. If one of them isn’t broadcasting information that might kill thousands of people in riots. And the other isn’t shooting people in the head in cold blood because he believes them dangerous sociopaths that might get away with their crimes.

The story takes many twists and turns, never losing enough speed to get boring, but with slower sections to allow the reader to put down the book. To handle the most pressing human urges. Eating. Drinking. Restroom. Reading on to know what happens next.

Characters: Great individuals. Most of them seem to be the usual stereotypes but cracks appear pretty quickly. People get away and people die. I cared. Well done.

World: He doesn’t go into much physics and cuts a few corners (distances are probably not quite right and flight times are probably not accurate) but the world as a whole makes sense. After reading the book, you have a feeling how Ceres and Eros look on the in- and outside, and how they work. Medicine is advanced but not almighty. If your bones break, you’re mobile again after a few minutes but it still takes the bone some weeks to heal.

I have only two minor points of criticism: When Julie comes out of her locker after four days without water, she passes a lot of ship but doesn’t stop to find something to drink. I could imagine that she’s too frightened to stop and get killed but there is no hint either way in her thoughts.

And there is no trace of information how everyone makes sure they don’t get contaminated with the “virus” as they enter and leave infected areas. A few sentences about medical checkups and decontamination would have worked wonders.

Apart from that, I loved the many details.

Q: What’s the most important part of a military ship?

A: A coffee machine that spits out good stuff no matter free fall or 5 g acceleration.


Aliens

3. May, 2010

Recently, Stephen Hawking warned: Don’t talk to aliens. His argument: Aliens could be dangerous for us, either because they are like us (just think how the Native Americans were treated to get an idea) or because the very contact with an advanced culture will ruin us (think of the Australian Aborigines) or because they could simply wipe us out since we could become a threat or simply because they like our planet more than us. Let’s have a closer look at these arguments.

Which is more simple: To build artificial mini-planets (only a few kilometers across) which orbit around a star in the habitable zone or send an arch over thousands of light years to another system? A system which has a different star with a different light spectrum. Could we live under a class A star without adjusting our bodies? Anyone know that? Would we still be human, if we did? My conclusion: If aliens make the trip, it’s not for site development or the beaches. If they can build an ark, they can much more easily build their own fancy planets in a place that is much more like home.

Resources maybe? There is no indication that our star system is especially rich in terms of resources. The sad fact is that we can’t reach most of the resources; we can’t mine the Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter (for gases) or the Oort cloud. We can’t even harvest more than an insignificant amount of the energy the Sun sends into space. If we could mine those resources and we really needed more, why fly thousands of light years when you have hundreds of uninhabitable star systems that are much closer? Why mine resources which are potentially defended when you can have billions times that in places where no one will bother you? Do you really think the rare unobtanium from Pandora exists only in that single place? And if they came here, why bother with Earth when you have so much more resources in places that are easier to reach?

Life tends to spread. I find it hard to believe that aliens would all evolve in a single place without spreading. If they spread, they will know about the devastating effect of the contact of two cultures at a different level. Maybe they would ignore it but what for? Even evil people act for a reason. A single madman won’t be able to build an ark. A society of madmen would do even worse and all the rest will be stopped by their bureaucracy.

America wasn’t conquered for fun, they did it for space (as in area to build a house on and the freedom to think and talk). If you don’t need more room and you can simply retreat to your own private mini-planet, why conquer space? Why invest a thousand years on something that you already have for free?

Slave labor? My guess is that evolved aliens will pay to work because all work will be done by machines. Today, robots aren’t cheap enough (in terms of money, time to train them or energy they consume) for widespread usage. But they will become smaller, cheaper and learn to train themselves. They will need maintenance but won’t go on strike because we will program them this way; there is just no reason to make a screw driver smarter than it being able to lock on the screw head and recognize the strength of the nut so it won’t break anything.

So in the end, I agree with the old joke:

Q: Why were we never visited by aliens?

A: Because they are intelligent.

If that were not the case, they wouldn’t get here (= too dump to build ark). And there simply is no reason to get here because there is nothing here for them. All the people hoping for alien visits expect that they will solve our problems. What smart person would want to visit a place like that? Maybe a parent. Or a friend.

My conclusion is that alien life out there is probably actively ignoring us. If they are technologically advanced, there is no reason to believe we can hide from them. And if they are advanced, I can’t find a reason to fear them either. Can you?