We all need a good space opera from time to time.
Space opera is an interesting subgenre. The name originally comes from the now virtually unknown term ‘horse opera,’ (itself a reference to soap operas) which refers to a formulaic and unimaginative western that could be pumped out by radio and movie studios and book publishers at low cost. Thus, originally calling something a space opera was a way to deride it as clichéd, hack science fiction. Before long, space operas were a large group of lazy space stories that used plots taken from naval adventure novels and cowboy stories.
Eventually, some decent writers started taking the things they enjoyed about space operas, like the huge scope, advanced future/alien societies, high stakes, adventure, and relatable heroes, and writing stories that didn’t suck. They still called them space operas.
The most famous example of a space opera is Star Wars. The film is literally a sci-fi interpretation of the westerns and swashbuckling naval films George Lucas loved as a kid.
Despite its dubious coinage, ‘space opera’ isn’t shorthand for ‘terrible.’ They can be a whole lot of fun.
Leviathan’s Wake is an entertaining blend of genres set against the backdrop of potential human annihilation, like a smart summer action blockbuster in space.
The story moves forward following two protagonists:
James Holden, he follows the character trope of the former military guy who is a mix of impulsive and ethical, which gets him into trouble (think Ned Stark in space). He’s an officer on an ice harvester, when the ship follows a distress call nearby and finds an empty ship. Before long, Holden finds himself in the middle of intrigue between the human factions on Mars, Earth, and the (asteroid) Belt. People won’t stop shooting various sized weapons at him and his crew.
Josephus “Joe” Aloisus Miller, he follows the trope of the disillusioned, cynical, alcoholic detective. A rich family pulls strings to have Miller find their adult “runaway” daughter and force her to go home. A kidnap job. As tends to happen, the clues don’t line up the way they should and Miller is pulled out of his drunken self-pity by the thread of a mystery and a compelling story.
In Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey utilizes all sorts of genres. There’s noir, political thriller, horrifying alien monster story, action, buddy cop, and more. All the tropes and genre mainstays combine to equal more than the sum of their parts. With Corey (who is actually the pseudonym of two men writing together) pulling from so very many genres and tropes, it keeps things entertaining.
Leviathan Wakes is big, loud, dark, smart, and engaging. If you are in the mood to start an entertaining series that doesn’t require too much of you (which is something we all need sometimes), then this might be the space opera for you.