Leviathan Wakes – Knowledge is Power

James S. A. Corey, the collaborative pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, received a Hugo nomination this year for their space-opera-esque Leviathan Wakes, a sweeping novel of multiple sites and genres (for a run-down visit Strange Telemetry). The authors have described it as an attempt to explain what happens between near-future and distant-future science fiction, that is, what pushes man out into the vast reaches of space. The novel alternates between two third-person narrators: “righteous” and somewhat uptight Captain James Holden and fallen, divorced, almost alcoholic Detective Joe Miller. While the relationship between these two was a bromance that at times felt cliched, the universe in which the narrative takes place definitely redeems the strained representations of interpersonal relationships.

The Plot: As this is a detective story along with being so many other things, documenting the twists and turns of the narrative would be time-consuming, and consequently, I’ll keep myself to the bare-bones here. The solar system is populated with human colonies as far as the moons of Neptune, though humanity still remains tethered to Earth and the increasingly Earth-like Mars for some resources. When Holden’s ship carrying water to the Belt (those small colonies found in the asteroid belt and beyond) is destroyed by what seems to be the Martian Navy disguised as pirates, he broadcasts what facts he has far and wide in an attempt to get some form of justice. However, he instead starts a war between the Belt and Mars. Meanwhile, Miller tries to maintain order on asteroid Ceres while being tasked with finding runaway rich girl Julie Mao. As the war escalates, with a Martain vessel being destroyed by what appears to be Earth ships, Miller loses his job as a cop but, obsessed with finding Julie, sets out to find Holden, the last human to have contact with Julie’s former ship. Miller and Holden converge on Eros, discover Julie’s body mangled by some bioweapon of unknown origin, and almost get stuck on the station as evil corporation Protogen (who has been behind starting the war) locks it down to run large-scale testing of their new weapon, which Miller and Holden later discover to be a protomolecule of alien origin hurled at the Earth billions of years ago but waylaid by Saturn. The protomolecule remakes life according to whatever instructions it has been programmed with, but also has a sense of improvisation. Miller and Holden team up with the Outer Planets Alliance, a terrorist/freedom fighter organization, to gain control of the space station from which the Protogen experiments are being managed, then to keep Eros and the bioweapon from falling into inner planet hands. As they begin enacting a plan to knock Eros into the sun, though, Eros demonstrates that the protomolecule has managed to adapt the rock into a space ship and it takes off toward Earth with Miller on its surface. As Miller explores its inside in an attempt to disable it before it destroys Earth, he realizes that Julie, or some mutated form of Julie, is controlling the ship. He finds her, wakes her up, and tells her to direct Eros to Venus instead, allowing himself to become part of the protomolecule’s larger ecosystem (and consequently part of Julie). Eros establishes itself on Venus and begins building things there as the governments of Earth, Mars, and the OPA attempt to reach a compromise.

Authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

I found two things striking as I was reading, the first being the importance of information distribution in the narrative. Holden, who believes firmly that everyone is entitled to the same information, is constantly broadcasting everything he knows under the assumption that secrecy allows injustice to continue. However, every time he broadcasts something, he starts another round of war as people willfully misinterpret the information as justification for killing people they already wanted to kill. Miller, on the other hand, vehemently argues that you can’t release information until you know what it means and what the effects are going to be. He understands that not everyone is going to be so careful about their analysis before they start shooting. These two characters debate this issue a number of times throughout the novel, and at the end of the novel, neither one is vindicated as right. The war only ceases long enough for negotiations because everyone realizes the greater threat of Protogen and the protomolecule, showing that information is powerful. Furthermore, the fact that Protogen was allowed to work in secrecy in the first place allowed them to enact these monstrosities in the first place. At the same time, these final bursts of information and their positive effects do not outweigh the destruction caused by Holden’s first information releases; the human race is still by and large populated with idiots who will twist data to support their own opinions. What doesn’t get discussed is how the information is packaged. It’s merely a case of releasing or not releasing, as though the information itself is somehow devoid from its surrounding context.

Rhetoric is discussed much more explicitly, though, in one of the novel’s more dramatic moments. After capturing the Protogen space station, Miller, Holden, and the OPA forces interrogate Dresden, who has been in charge of planning and deploying the Eros experiment. When asked why he did it, Dresden talks about the alien race who was already god-like enough to design something like the protomolecule and send it toward Earth before humans had even begun to evolve. He describes the ways in which the protomolecule could be used to adapt humans who did not need oxygen or water or any of the resources that had tied them to Earth, putting them on somewhat more equal footing with those god-like creatures who had already attempted one epic bioattack . Miller promptly shoots the man in the head. Holden is shocked and horrified that Dresden was killed without a trial or jury, but Miller argues that Dresden would have gotten away with it because of his money and power. At the same time, it’s clear that Miller felt he had to shoot Dresden right at that moment because Dresden was  persuading them that such atrocities as those he had committed could be justified with the promise of a super-race. Dresden’s rhetoric was powerful and dangerous and the only way to ensure that it did not spread was to kill the man himself. This in combination with the question of information distribution show that in this novel, words are given a great deal of credit as powerful shapers of action. Repeatedly, Holden returns to the words of his initial broadcast, arguing that he never accused the Martians of attacking the Belters, but others point out that he’s not paying attention to how others would hear his words.

One argument that we could take away from this novel is that hiding behind what the words are as opposed to what they mean is an ineffectual way of understanding our position in the many conversations we are a part of. The novel does ask us to seriously consider the ramifications of dissemination of knowledge, and for this reason, I’m looking forward to the other novels in this series.

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2 thoughts on “Leviathan Wakes – Knowledge is Power

  1. I do agree that the whole Miller-Holden thing reads like a bromance in places, but could we describe it as an unrequited bromance? While the two have comparable goals and want to stop the Protogen molecule and the company from indiscriminately murdering anyone they want in the name of the next step in human evolution, their approaches and underlying philosophies are different and abrasive to one another. Still, there is a nice dialectic going on between them as we see Holden believably considering and even granting some of Miller’s points and vice versa.

    • “Unrequited bromance”…nice way to put it. I do like the dialogue between their very different approaches. It’s when Miller gets all “I don’t have any friends” and Holden gets all “Why did you have to disappoint me like that” that I find myself making derisive noises with my mouth. Granted, I still enjoy it, and I think it works well in the context of the genres Abraham and Franck are working with, but I still giggle.

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