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Among the new statistics taking over baseball is the concept of the “replacement player.” To judge the value of any player, you can measure then against a generic player that might be available to a team as a replacement (hence, the new stat WAR, or Wins Above Replacement). A replacement-level player is basically competent but not outstanding. He won’t do much to hurt you but won’t help, either.

“Leviathan Wakes” is replacement-level science fiction. It’s not terrible, but it’s pretty bland and – time will tell – probably forgettable.

I picked it up on the recommendation of a bookstore clerk in Manchester, and after plowing through some thicker stuff, I was eager for a breezy page turner. “Leviathan Wakes” is set in the not-too-distant future. Humans have spacecraft and have colonized the moons and planets, but haven’t escaped the solar system. The book is the first of a planned trilogy that intends to document mankind’s leap to the stars.

The “author,” James S.A. Corey, is actually the pseudonym of two writers, one of whom is billed as “the assistant to George R.R. Martin,” which explain’s Martin’s breathless blurb on the cover.

The story itself is a lengthy, slightly confusing and occasionally entertaining tour of the asteroid belt, told through the alternating perspectives of an idealistic space pilot and a disillusioned police detective. Their stories converge over an abandoned freighter, a missing woman and a rogue space germ that causes horrifying mutations. The backdrop is an unstable political balance between Earth and Mars that topples into war.

All of this is rich material, but it suffers in the telling. The two main characters too easily fall into genre cliches, the supporting characters are thinly drawn and their milieu of space stations and mining colonies is so standard-issue they seem ordered in bulk from Acme SciFi. (It really suffers in this respect when compared to Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which has a similar setting, but is far more inventive in creating a unique culture away from Earth). The plot has some twists, and it picks up steam toward the end, but it lumbers on for too long, sagging in the middle. The twin narratives – a device familiar to readers of Martin, and which works in his far-flung narratives – seems unnecessary here, as the two characters frequently cross paths and share the same story.

“Leviathan Wakes” is never outrageously bad, and there are worse ways to pass the time. But it’s hard to root for a replacement player.

Books completed this year:

1, The Man in the High Castle (Dick)
2, Disgrace (Coetzee)
3, The Finkler Question (Jacobson)
4, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein)
5, Beautiful Ruins (Walter)
6, Petropolis (Ulinich)
7, The Caves of Steel (Asimov)
9, Winter in the Blood (Welch)
10, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel (Ulinich)
11, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Stevenson)
12, Moby-Dick (Melville)
13, The Road (McCarthy)
14, The Corrections (Franzen)
15, Leviathan Wakes (Corey)