Book #134: Leviathan Wakes (2011)

author: James S.A. Corey
language: English
length: 19 hours and 8 minutes (1,148 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 May 2017

I got this audiobook on the recommendation of a coworker or manager, I think, when I mentioned I was into sci-fi and looking for a new book to read. So I decided to get it sometime during April, and was listening to it when I went cycling. I had planned to go on something more like a cycling trek during April, but sickness and injury stopped me in my tracks somewhat. But this book was still a nice companion to long bike rides, when I got the chance. It took me a long time to finish, of course – the last audiobook was A Symphony of Echoes, a whole month before this one.

The author, James S.A. Corey, is actually the pseudonym for two authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which is a bit confusing. I’m not sure why they didn’t just use their own names – maybe it makes it easier to publish, or something. They wrote alternate chapters of the book, which are from the point of view of different characters.

It took me a few listens to twig that alternate chapters were from disparate points of view. The universe set up by the book is pretty grandiose, and it took a bit of getting used to. The two characters, Holden and Miller, meet up and get split up later in the book, but at first they don’t know each other. And the story takes a while to really get going.

The book is set in a colonized solar system – faster than light travel is impossible, but there’s some kind of constant-thrust drive that makes quick travel easy. This is actually a fairly common idea – it was also in We Are Legion (We Are Bob), for example, although if you’ve been keeping up with my reviews you’ll know I didn’t like that book much, or in Ultima – in those books there was some kind of infinite-like supply of energy that was used to travel interstellar distances. It was also used in The Adventures of Tintin, back in the 1950s, and the effects of gravity on humans reminded me strongly of what happened in the Moon expedition comics. This also made clear one of the other problems with We Are Bob – Bob could go up to 10 g or more without any issues, as he’s a computer projection, but in general the human characters in Leviathan Wakes can only go up to 3 g safely, and have to take a dangerous cocktail of drugs to stay awake and alive at higher thrust levels.

This level of realism made it feel a lot “harder” than the other sci-fi I’d been reading – and in general, gravity is very important to the story, reminding readers of this constantly. There’s rivalry between stocky inner-planet types, who “grew up in a gravity well”, and taller, more spindly types who grew up in the asteroid belt. That brings me to the other thing I liked a lot about this book, which is that it’s very realistic racially and linguistically. The “belters” have a special argot or pidgin that they use to communicate, which is difficult to understand when it’s being read aloud on the audiobook, but lends a special level of realism to the book. I was also glad to see that not everyone speaks English – Russian, Bengali and Hindi at the very least are mentioned a lot during the book.

As the story develops there are a couple of revelations that stretch the boundary of what I’d consider “hard” sci-fi, but this allows the book to also have a mystery feel to it, and even have a few straight-up zombie horror scenes. I imagine it would look exciting on film – and indeed, there’s apparently a TV series, called The Expanse after the name of the book series. I guess I’d better get my act together and try to watch that at some point. I’m not that up-to-date with TV.

Anyway, there are a lot more levels to this story, such as the character Miller’s attachment to Julie Mao, a girl whose disappearance he’s been investigating. And stuff is generally set up and foreshadowed well. So in general, although it took a very long time to finish this book, I enjoyed it a lot and have now downloaded the next book to listen – as of writing this, it’s the next in my queue of things to listen to. But I’m a few weeks behind on reviewing, so it’ll be a while before I get to reviewing it!

Has anyone else read this? What did you think?

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TV: In the Flesh seasons 1 & 2 (2013-14)

IMG_2169.JPGCreator: Dominic Mitchell
Language: English
Length: 3 episodes and 6 episodes respectively, around 60 minutes each
Finished watching on: Sep 5 and Sep 11 respectively

The first I heard of this show was, perhaps ironically, through an article linked on my Facebook arguing the case for it to be renewed for a third season, so far an uncertain fate. To be fair, it’s quite possible that I’d heard vaguely about the “gay zombie show” before, but this was at least the first time I’d been made aware of it explicitly.

The words “BBC Three series” don’t fill one with much hope, to be honest, but this surpassed those expectations. As I alluded, the main character has gay relationships, making the show perhaps most famous for actually being one of the few on modern television to include them, and moreover to do so without this being the biggest plot point, and without it being a show only about gay people. Thus it stands in contrast to other BBC shows that are more content to make gay jokes about their protagonists, who constantly protest their eternal heterosexuality.

The zombie aspect of the story is actually not as central as such a title would make you think though, as the zombie apocalypse has already been and gone, and those who weren’t killed, including the main character, have been rehabilitated into society by the government. They take drugs to fix their minds, and wear makeup and contacts to disguise their undead status.

But not everyone’s happy about that. Most of the fictional Lancashire village where the show’s set vehemently hate the zombies, who are known in the show either as the euphemistic “PDS sufferers” or the offensive “rotters”. Thus the show becomes, for the most part, a metaphor for oppression.

The other main metaphor seems to be for mental illness. The acronym PDS seems to be deliberately selected by the creators to be reminiscent of PTSD, which the main character visibly suffers from, especially in the first season, when he gets violent flashbacks a lot to his time as a zombie, or to the fact that he had committed suicide before the opening of the series. A large part of the first series deals with the way he and his family react to his return, and more generally, how people deal with the aftermath of suicide.

The final main theme is religion. It’s not surprising that when the dead start to rise, people become very religious, as it coincides with what’s taught in the bible. So especially in the first season (in the second, a year has passed and the situation has sort of settled), representatives of the church plays the part of the main antagonists. The undead, too, have their own prophet and religion predicting similar things to the living church, such as a second rising.

I’m not going to get anywhere recapping the plot, however. Suffice to say the show is brimming with ideas and tales about all the different families affected in different ways, so much so that it feels like it’s overflowing, especially with such short seasons. And yet there are so many questions left unanswered. Like, was this phenomenon confined to the UK, or was it worldwide? How did other cultures deal with it?

The main thing I took away was how emotionally draining it was to watch, actually. The situations feel very real, and the characters are very well portrayed and identifiable, so seeing them often in pain is very affecting, and can be difficult to watch.

I also had a bit of a heart-wrenching realization moment when I noticed how many of the undead characters are so young – only one or two of the PDS characters are in their old age – and how it seems like just about every family we see in the village has been affected in some way by a recent death. Of course, this has to do with conservation of detail. Even though the story is about them getting their second chances, it was a sobering moment.

Notwithstanding the difficult emotional aspect of the show, it is also heartwarming and has comedic moments too, and I really enjoyed watching it. Since it ended on a cliffhanger, I do really hope they make the next season. And I’d definitely recommend it. Having a cute lead also helps.