Corey, James S.A. Leviathan Wakes.

NY: Orbit Books, 2011.

“James Corey” is actually the team of fantasy author Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who works for George R.R. Martin, and together they’ve produced one of the most exciting and enjoyable space operas I’ve read in years. The setting is a couple of centuries in the future, with thirty billion people crowding Earth, another four billion terraforming a politically independent Mars, and several hundred million more spread through the Asteroid Belt and the rest of the solar system. We haven’t reached the stars yet but that’s coming. Meanwhile, politics gets in the way, as it always does with humans.

The cast of characters is developed in great detail, focusing on the rather sad Detective Miller, homicide cop on Ceres, the most important port in the Belt, and on Jim Holden, executive officer on a run-of-the-mill freight-hauler trying to make a living in the outer reaches of the system. And the key to the plot is young Julie Mao, daughter of an extremely wealthy Earth family, who runs afoul of what seem to be pirates but who are actually far more dangerous than that. Because Phoebe, always assumed to be just a minor moon of Saturn, has been discovered to be actually an alien artifact — a bioweapon sent into our system billions of years ago. And now it’s in the hands of corporate psychopaths.

It’s a long, complex story with several intertwined plotlines in alternating chapters. The technological background of life in space and on various rocks and manmade stations is very well handled indeed, and the authors build the suspense at a steady pace until you’ll be white-knuckling your way through the last few chapters. Even better, this is only the opening yarn in a series — “The Expanse” — and you will definitely want to have the next volume handy when you finish this one.

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