Leviathan Falls (Book 9 of The Expanse)

I discovered the first book of The Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes, back in 2014. By then the first three books had already been out. I’m pretty sure I burned through those early books in a few weeks. I know I’ve read all the subsequent ones as they came out. This was a series that channeled the old fashioned space opera that I’d read as a boy, mostly in books from the 1940s and 1950s. But it was done with a more contemporary understanding of science, and with far more character development and diversity than most of that old stuff ever had.

The series has often been compared to Game of Thrones, probably spurred by the fact that one of the series authors used to work for George R.R. Martin. But I’ve often thought of it more as a literary version of Star Wars, something inspired by decades of prior stories in a genre. (The authors, writing under the same James S.A. Corey pen name, actually wrote a Star Wars novel, which I haven’t read.)

While the series cares about the actual science a lot more than Star Wars, it’s never been afraid to bring in effectively magical concepts, albeit usually under the cover of Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” or at least very speculative science. Still, when it was adapted into a TV show, it turned out to be the most accurate space opera show that I’ve seen so far, at least in terms of plausible logistics for interplanetary space travel.

That show’s sixth and reportedly final season is about to come out on Amazon. In some ways, it’s amazing that it survived as long as it did. Space shows are expensive, and as I noted on the last post, streaming services are increasingly showing a tendency for shorter series. Unfortunately, wrapping the show after its sixth season is apparently going to end it before it gets into the final trilogy of books. There’s hope that there might be more in the franchise, maybe movies or something, but nothing definite yet. It may mean that the only way to know the full story is to read the books.

Leviathan Falls is the ninth and final novel of the series. This is the kind of series you definitely want to start at the first novel. It makes getting into any details of the story difficult, at least without also going into serious spoiler territory, which I won’t do. The early parts of the book involve a lot of action and adventure. Toward the end, it turns into an existential battle for humanity’s survival. With humanity on the brink of annihilation, desperate and terrible decisions have to be made by the remaining heroes.

The series as a whole often asked us to consider what it means to be human. But it was in the final trilogy of books where the boundaries really started to be explored. And in this final episode, we’re asked to consider just how much of the human condition is necessary. If survival meant giving up our biology or individuality, would it be worth it?

The end of any long running series like this is probably always going to leave some fans disappointed. I suspect this one won’t be an exception. I enjoyed it, and found the ending…appropriate, if not inevitable in retrospect.

I’ll say that we do learn about the builders of the protomolecule, and it’s not as bleak a story as I was expecting. We also learn more about the conflict that destroyed them. And we get a little insight into the long term fate of humanity. I won’t say that every question I had was answered, but for most of the ones that weren’t, it made sense to me that they wouldn’t be answered.

There is reportedly going to be one last story in the series, a novella that takes place after this novel. But it’s worth mentioning that the novellas have never been mandatory for enjoying the series. I’ve read some of them, but not all. They fill in missing details, which might include answers to the questions I mentioned. Although I’m generally satisfied with where things stand at this point.

All of which is to say that I enjoyed this final novel a great deal. It provided a powerful ending for the series, a series that I’ve recommended many times. If old fashioned space opera, with a modern view of the future coupled with some exploration of the human condition, sounds interesting to you, it’s definitely worth checking out.

9 thoughts on “Leviathan Falls (Book 9 of The Expanse)

  1. I bought this book and then realized I hadn’t finished #8 (I read a great many books simultaneously, switching back and forth). I can see why the video version hasn’t stuck to the books all that well as that would have been near impossible, but I find that doing both at the same time gets a little confusing.

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    1. On reading multiple books simultaneously, I often do the same thing, although in my case it’s usually one fiction book and one non-fiction book at a time, alternating between the two. But it’s also not unusual for one of those to be put on hold while I read another book in the same category, and I don’t always get back to the book that got put on hold.

      I don’t have any trouble keeping the show and books separate. Interestingly enough, because I started the books before the show, I still have my pre-show image of the characters when reading. So Naomi still has her Asian features, Amos is a really big dude with a bald head, Alex is older and has less hair than his show counterpart, and, for reasons I can’t explain, my image of Holden stubbornly remains one of a blond guy, albeit older in these later books.

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    1. Just finished it. Basically, a thumbs up. I found the writing a bit over-detailed with a bit too much mental churning for a finale as well as bit much spoon-feeding. I’ve come to really dislike the expository trick of having a character space out during a conversation and go tripping through their mind with some memory. In this one, Tanaka, at one point, actually realizes she’s been lost in her own mind too long during a conversation. I’ve found the trick increasingly irritating. In the finale, the writers two or three times rewind the clock and do that bit again from some other character’s point of view, which I found broke the flow a little and didn’t add anything. But these are all fairly minor complaints. Just things I noticed.

      I’m not sure how I feel about the overall plot — raving monsters from another dimension seems kinda 1950s, but this is space opera, so I guess it’s in-genre. But talk about lack of nuance in an antagonist, yikes.

      That sort of goes along with a cartoonish aspect to all the various villains. None of them you’d every identify with or, in some cases, even understand. They’re just Bad People. (Which is okay. Stories can have those. Sometimes it’s refreshing. Again, none of this is really a complaint. Not seriously, anyway.)

      Kinda cool how the Ring Space emulates their homeworld!

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      1. SPOILERS

        Yeah, the writing in the series has always been a bit more detailed than I care for. I always felt like the books could have been a little leaner, with a faster pace. But like you, it was never enough to rise to an actual detriment, except, for me, in Babylon’s Ashes, and that was really due to the more literary introspective style they seemed to take for that book.

        I was disappointed we didn’t learn more about the angry space gods, although I can understand why they didn’t go there. Any account probably would have been deflationary. But I wondered throughout the books about their motivations. I think it was notable that their responses were relatively restrained until they were outright attacked in the previous book. Only then did they go into full scale extermination mode. In my mind, their reality was probably being intruded into, likely causing pain and damage, and they were responding. At least that’s my interpretation.

        One of the things the TV show improved on were the villains, particularly the early ones. They’re much more developed than the book versions. The main antagonist in this book actually had a lot of POV time, so we spent time in her head, but she was almost never sympathetic, except maybe in the sense of feeling sorry for someone that messed up.

        Anyway, glad you enjoyed it!

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        1. In many regards, Tanaka was a distraction, and not really necessary. Teresa or Holden could have done what she did — Teresa would even have had similar reasons. I guess Tanaka added some urgency and chase-y-ness but she doesn’t seem to be any kind of pivot. At one point the book seemed to suggest she’d go after Alex’s family, but that never panned out. They seem to like Crazy Hater minor villains. The TV show did do it better although not much they could do with Adolphus Murtry, though.

          In a way, the space gods are kind of a natural force, one with consciousness. We never understand them as anything other than malevolent power (like the tornadoes or earthquakes, but smart and pissed off). The overall message is vaguely Fern Gully or Avatar — an expanding species destroying another’s habitat and being resisted. Very successfully, but then along come us murderous humans and we’re a real threat. A version of humans über-alles. Altogether not my favorite aspect of the books. The crew on the Roci, that was my interest.

          Something you said in your review about the expected ending made me think it might have a different kind of expected ended, given the whole “what it means to be human” thing (Otavia Butler has that ending in her Xenogenesis series). Instead, it was the ending I was thinking would be better than that (it works in Butler’s story, but I wasn’t looking for that here). Kind of the obvious solution. Mankind just has to learn to do it the old-fashioned way.

          Or, as in the epilogue, the new-fashioned way wherein we meet my favorite character again. (I guessed it just ahead of the reveal!)

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          1. One of the things I’ve noticed in a lot of successful sci-fi and fantasy, is that often it includes what I think of as the low story and the high story. Or we could call them the human story and the wonder story. The wonder story excites our intellectual, geeky, and philosophical side. The human story is a basic conflict between humans.

            With just the high story, you get something like 2001 A Space Odyssey or the first Star Trek movie. But with only the human story, it comes across as maybe exciting but not inspiring. Put them together, and if done right you have something that is both exciting and philosophical. (Imagine how much better the first Star Trek movie might have been if one of the Klingon ships had made it aboard Vejur and mixed in some old fashioned physical conflict.)

            I think Tanaka’s purpose in this book was largely to supply the low story.

            Yeah, I was kind of teasing in the post. I wanted to give an idea of the stakes without giving away the ending. But that ending fits with the theme throughout the books.

            I was pretty much expecting that character (also my favorite) to show up in the epilogue, and would have been disappointed if they hadn’t.

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