"Leviathan Wakes" is as close as you'll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form

When you dive into Leviathan Wakes, the first in the Expanse series from James S. A. Corey, you'll feel like you're watching the opening scene in any of a dozen awesome science fiction films.

There's a terrifying alien force that's converted the crew of a hapless ice hauler into a throbbing ooze of flesh and machine. Nobody knows what it is, but it's as freaky as John Carpenter's The Thing. Who can stop it? A hard-bitten cop named Miller, born and raised in the Belt, is on the case - though he doesn't realize it yet. And an idealist named Holden, his ship destroyed under mysterious circumstances, is also trying to figure it out too - though he also doesn't realize it yet. Set in a middle-range future where Earth has colonized Mars and the Belt, though not much beyond, Leviathan Wakes is a crazy adventure whose bogeyman - that terrifying alien force I mentioned earlier - manages to take a backseat to an interplanetary war.

We follow Miller and Holden on missions that couldn't be more unrelated, until it turns out that they are. Both men's lives are torn apart when Mars and the Belt go to war after Holden's cargo ship is destroyed. And both men discover, gradually, that the issue isn't inner planets vs. outer planets, but humanity vs. something seriously powerful out beyond our solar system.

Most of the book is given over to the worldbuilding and intense space station combat you'd expect from military science fiction rather than pure space opera. Though Leviathan Wakes has many elements of space opera, the novel is tightly focused on two characters who spend most of their time zooming between asteroids, trying to stop the war and figure out why the hell Holden's ship was destroyed in the first place. The fun of the book is in discovering how author Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) has brought the Belt to life as a society, both culturally and technologically. If you love tales packed with worldbuildy details like how humans cored asteroids, pumped them full of atmosphere, and spun them up for gravity's sake, then you'll love this novel to pieces.

Where the book falters is in its broader scope. We believe easily in Miller and Holden, and the motives of rebels in the Belt who want to stop paying taxes to Earth and Mars for their air and water. But we never really understand the motives of Mars and Earth in the war that's being waged. Nor do we understand the corporate players involved, who seem evil for evil's sake rather than anything vaguely resembling the more mundane desires that often drive tyranny. The book's big reveals are a bit too simplistic, especially given the complexity of the world Corey has set up.

Still, the book is a fun ride and the perfect thing for a long summer afternoon by the beach or the air conditioner. It's the first of a series, but luckily it ends on a note of closure so you're not left pulling out your hair in frustration - though of course once you see what that alien force can do, you'll definitely want to know what's coming next.

Leviathan Wakes comes out in June. You can pre-order via Amazon.