This was the last of the Hugo-nominated novels I needed to read. Good thing too, since I have to do my votes in the next week. I’m hoping to at least run through the short stories, though I’m afraid I won’t have time for anything else before the deadline, which makes me sad.
My feelings about this book are… complicated.
There’s a lot to like about it. When I first picked the book up, I’ll admit the fact that it was over 500 pages long filled me with a certain amount of trepidation, mostly because I don’t have a lot of time to read these days. But it was a fast read, it kept me interested, and I can’t say I felt like it was too long. The characters were likable, it was definitely wonderfully epic like only space opera can be, and I liked all the space battles and politics. The writing was good. It deserves its Hugo nomination, I think.
So why do I feel unsettled about it? There’s a sort of vague, lasting sense of discomfort that has just stuck with me since I finished the book.
It could be that recently I’ve been talking with a lot of friends about how we wish there were more awesome female characters out there. It’s a constant source of frustration. Literature doesn’t have quite the same problems as, say, television and movies with women being window dressing even when they’re shooting things, but it’s still annoying.
Now, the two main characters of Leviathan Wakes are guys. Whatever, I don’t mind that so much. There are only a few female characters that really have any impact on the story: Captain Shaddid, Julie Mao, and Naomi. Shaddid is mostly there to be stone-cold and fire Detective Miller, and other than that she’s not all that major as a character.
Naomi, I really liked. She’s feisty, she’s smart, she’s a survivor, she doesn’t take crap off of anyone. She tells off Holden and tells him she doesn’t want to hear ‘I love you’ to get her in bed. The way Holden is as a character, this kind of smackdown was entirely appropriate, and I loved it. Then a couple of chapters later, she sleeps with him anyway. They’re also about to head off on a potential suicide mission, so that’s a very human thing to do, even if I found it a bit disappointing. I still liked Naomi.
It’s with Julie Mao where the discomfort comes. She’s also presented as being very self-reliant, a survivor, a rich girl who abandoned her family and fought off the emotional blackmail. But she’s mostly not actually present in the story. She’s there to be the motivation for Detective Miller, who becomes creepily obsessed with her, to the point that he’s hallucinating her and decides he’s in love with her. Then we find out at the very end that she’s being used by the “protomolecule” to pilot Eros-turned ship to Earth. What stops this is Detective Miller, working on that one-sided connection he has with her. He basically commits suicide to be with her.
It just… bugs me. Julie Mao ends up being used by one side or another throughout the entire book and is then talked down by a guy she’s never met who thinks he loves her. Naomi ends up feeling like a prize that gets won by Holden, despite her initial resistance to it. Both women are like goals for the two main male characters.
I’m probably being unfair here, but it just bothers me. I think if it had just been one or the other, I would have been fine.