1 December, 2022

LitStack Rec – The Marriage Plot & Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey

So, I was thinking about this week’s recommendation, and I wanted to highlight a book where one person’s actions effected an immense change, where the urge to “do the right thing” flies in the face of caution and who’s knee jerk responses to what’s happening around them ends up changing the very fabric of civilization. Not due to political correctness, but due to human decency.

And one book stood out for me:  Leviathan Wakes, the first book of James S. A. Corey’s epic science fiction series, The Expanse. In it, James Holden, a military dropout spending a sought out lackluster tenure on an ice hauling freighter in deep space – someone who is comfortable in obscurity and unwillingly pressed into a modicum of responsibility by default – anonymously acknowledges a distress call that the ship’s captain has ordered the crew to ignore. By doing so, he sets in motion catastrophic events that cause racial and political tensions between the factions of humanity to flare white hot. As the story progresses throughout this book and the following books in the series, Holden continues to make snap decisions based on what he feels is right, and lets others worry about the fallout.

Some consider him a loose cannon, others a political liability. But many others, especially those at the bottom of the pecking order, consider him a hero (which he, himself, abhors). And eventually, even though his actions lead to threats of war and aggressions on all sides, they end up saving all the worlds involved in the conflict by exposing an even greater threat to all, leveling the playing field and thwarting the power mongers who look to control humanity’s fate through secrecy and chicanery.

In this day and age where the problems that surround us seem so large that our own puny efforts feel ineffective and wasted, where we want desperately to make a difference but can’t seem to gain any traction (or worse yet, are told that the efforts we make are misguided or worthless or just plain wrong), the example of James Holden is a welcome relief. Holden doesn’t care what bridges he burns, or what the powerful think about him, he doesn’t care about fame and fortune, he doesn’t give a damn about being a hero. He just wants to be a good man. And even though he struggles to learn what that truly means, he never gives up trying.

James Holden is a great example to us all. And on top of that, Leviathan Wakes is an incredible book; well written, action packed, chock full of wonderful characters and a deftly realized future that feels utterly plausible. It, and all the books in the series, are complex without being bewildering, thick but engaging, unexpected and imminently satisfying. And at the center of them all is James Holden, just another guy trying to do the right thing. A guy just like us.

I know I’ve recommended Leviathan Wakes and The Expanse series before, but that won’t keep me from recommending it again… and again. For so many reasons. And for the James Holden in all of us.

—Sharon Browning


  • Lauren Alwan

    Lauren Alwan’s fiction has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, the Southern Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, in the Bellevue Literary Review. She is the recipient of a First Pages Prize, the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, and.a citation of Notable in Best American Essays. Her essays have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Catapult, World Literature Today, The Rumpus, The Millions, Writer's Digest, and others. She is a prose editor at the museum of americana, an online literary review. Follow her on Twitter at @lauren_alwan and learn more at www.laurenalwan.com