The Sci-fi Channel’s adaptation of The Expanse put these books on my radar. The show seemed like it might be fun, and I decided to read the books instead of watching.
Leviathan Wakes is the first and I tore through it over a few evenings this summer during our trip to Andalusia. The Beav and I had, as usual, brought a small library with us to read on the plane and before bed. I’d considered leaving this one at home because it was a thick volume loosely printed and took up a lot of space. But by the time the protomolecule was wrecking havoc on Eros and the first vomit zombies had made their appearance, any lingering regrets were gone. I was reading as fast as I could move my eyes.
The book reads like a mock-up of a movie or TV series: lots of action, clearly delineated characters, and a double point-of-view presented in alternating chapters that functions as cross-cutting. Plus its story is a nice mash-up of a space adventure and a noir mystery. Yet, as I think back to the book now, what stands out in sharp relief in my memory is not the plot. It’s the fresh but disorienting portrait of our solar system.
This story is set as humanity is moving out into space. They’ve reached the astroid belt, Mars, and have set up a few colonies on moons of Jupiter, but these far-flung outposts and some mining operations in the rings of Saturn are the very limit of their reach. The narration continually points out the extreme distances the characters must travel (and the time it takes) as they move from place to place. It also notes and lingers over the profoundly odd realities of motion and gravity and light constraining the characters’ lives. This attention to physical limits acts (perhaps?) as a nod to near-future, real-science stories like The Martian (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit here), but more practically, it generates a useful tension between people and their place. (It also reminds me of one of the admirable features of Sanderson’s The Final Empire.)
I really enjoyed the book and will be reading the rest of the series.
I bought an old hard cover edition of this book online and it showed up riddled by bookworms (all dead now thankfully).
By the time I was done reading, I felt those traces of past life—cutting a wobbly track across the surface of four or five pages before digging a hole straight through a dozen more and then turning and cutting a bit more track in a new direction before coming to an abrupt end—I felt those traces were an apt image of Isherwood’s style in this book. Spare and sharply defined, but also wandering and seemingly aimless.
When the book ends, it doesn’t so much conclude as stop. Reading the final pages, it seemed to me that Edmund White does something like what Isherwood does but with an artistry and a sense of structure and a density that suit my tastes more.
I was reading this book as the election came to a close, and the sense of dread that builds off-stage as the narrator, Christoph, notices the Nazi’s rise to power and the war that ensues, notices it from Greece, from England, and finally from Hollywood, notices it but invariably, repeatedly looks away, well, it all felt uncomfortably topical in those early, gloomy days after the election results were announced. I walked away from the book with a new understanding of how even terrible, earth-shattering events leave vast swaths of people merely inconvenienced, leave them free to do other things.
I suppose this is a cause for hope—things go on, people survive—but if so, it’s a bleak kind of hope.
Things are silent here. It’s the silence of grief.
I’m not sure how to explain what I mean, but, here’s an attempt:
When the Beav first came to the States with me in 2002, I was struck by and realized, in a way that I’d never come close to realizing before, that our relationship was illegal, that caught in an odd moment or an odd place, we could be subject to law and that the law would consider our relationship to be unnatural and punishable. So when the Supreme Court later decided in Lawrence v. Texas that homosexuality could not be criminalized that decision mattered to me profoundly. From that point forward, the Beav and I could travel to the states with less fear and uncertainty. Yes, we would still endure the scrutiny of border guards and have to decide whether to present ourselves together as a couple or apart as “just friends.” But however unpleasant these individual moments of exposure, we had the confidence that comes from knowing finally we were legal. Now, years later, same-sex marriage has also be declared legal, and I’d begun to assume that things were getting (and would continue to get) better for everyone.
Which is why Trump’s election comes as a punch in the gut. It feels like the deck has been shuffled and the rules changed. Suddenly an ugly politics of racism and sexism openly bellows its support for an abhorrent white nationalism that I had naively—oh so very very naively—hoped was being steadily shuffled off into the dustbin of history. We’re not debating options for how to improve things anymore. We’re watching whole swaths of people be scapegoated, demonized and spoken about as if they were less that fully human. That’s how bad things are.
And I was a white male fool to have thought we were past that point and couldn’t go back.
It’s a terrible, discouraging moment.
It’s been quiet around here, but a lot’s been going on.
My brother got married. Work is crazy. There’s stuff with the house. I’ve barely read or watched anything I wasn’t teaching. Haven’t had time to.
This too shall pass, right?
…and when it does, more. Soon.